Cast: Randy Orton, Tom Stevens, Brian Markinson, Venus Terzo, Cindy Busby, Sean Rogerson
Taking the semi-original idea of 12 Rounds (2009) and repeating it, 12 Rounds: Reloaded swaps John Cena’s cop for Randy Orton’s EMT (emergency medical technician), and Aiden Gillen’s psycho criminal for Brian Markinson’s psycho government defence contractor. This time around, Nick Malloy (Orton) fails to save the female passenger in a two-car pile-up. One year later and aggrieved husband Heller (Markinson) is out to “balance the scales of justice”. Malloy’s wife, Sarah (Busby) is kidnapped, and Malloy is forced to find clue after clues to why he and Sarah have been targeted, as he travels from one place to another in an occasionally desperate race against time. Along the way he picks up wastrel Tommy Weaver (Stevens), and the attention as they begin to realise Malloy is somehow connected to the recent disappearance of the Governor (don’t worry, it all comes together after about an hour).
This is dispiriting stuff, with a mess of a script that gives none of its cast the chance to provide anything resembling a performance. Orton gives new meaning to the phrase “as wooden as a dimestore Indian”, while Stevens and Markinson crank up the dial past eleven in their attempts to spout their dialogue convincingly. Terzo, as McKenzie, the police officer in charge of chasing Malloy and finding the Governor, fares even less well and the scene where she agrees to help Malloy is as brief and as unconvincing as it could possibly get (the part really needed Yancy Butler, but hey, them’s the breaks). The race against time aspect of the plot is played without throughout: often Heller resets the time during rounds whenever there’s the slightest hold up or delay in Malloy’s progress.
Reiné, no stranger to the world of low-budget action movies, does his best but the lack of any real peril linked to the continual absurdities of David Benullo’s script, hampers him from the start. The action sequences are poorly edited, and the scene where Malloy takes on two police officers in a park is so disjointed it makes the following sequence where he and Weaver escape in the officers’ cruiser look like the Odessa steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin. And the movie’s budget is, in fact, so low that the opening car crash happens off screen.
Ultimately, 12 Rounds: Reloaded fails because it’s a very cheap knock-off of an already fully played out idea. It lacks the conviction to put Malloy in any real danger or morally dubious circumstances, and reduces the threat to his wife by leaving her out of things until almost the end; a brief shot of Sarah asleep on a couch is used by Heller to keep Malloy in tow, but the script itself undercuts any menace – and believe me, there isn’t any – by having the police talk to her later in the movie…and she’s fine. Minor – often very minor – characters meet various grisly ends but there’s no sense of outrage or horror at what Heller’s doing, just a hope that he’ll get his comeuppance sooner rather than later so we can all go and do something more interesting. There’s only one moment in the whole movie where the audience’s expectations are undermined but by the time it happens, the viewer will have been past caring (waaaaay past).
WWE Films have produced a lot of low-budget action movies in recent years, in part as a way of further branding their “superstars” in the acting world. So far, only Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, is still the only wrestler who has met, and indeed surpassed, expectations. And while Orton was completely adequate in his cameo in That’s What I Am (2011), on this evidence his elevation from prime-time wrestling to movie stardom won’t be happening anytime soon.
Rating: 3/10 – muddled, underwhelming, dire, atrocious… just some of the words that could have been in the main review, but they all apply; let’s hope no one has the idea of making 12 Rounds: Revolutions.
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.
Cast: Leslie Bibb, Adam Goldberg, Kathy Baker, Barry Bostwick, Geoffrey Lewis, Vivica A. Fox, Eddie Jemison, Patrick Fischler, Paula Marshall, Sam McMurray, Richard Riehle, Missi Pyle, Brandon Routh
When the position of Junior Executive becomes available at Judge Pharmaceuticals, bored secretary Sarah Jane McKinney (Bibb) decides to go for the job. To her surprise she gets it but when she arrives at her new office to begin her “new life”, she finds another executive, Milo Beeber (Routh), has been given the post instead and she is to be his new assistant. After a working dinner one evening, she and Milo end up at his place and when he makes a move on her, Milo ends up dead, albeit accidentally. This one event sets in motion a series of murders, blackmail attempts, career progressions, and the romantic attentions of a homicide detective, Bill Malloy (Goldberg). Through it all, Sarah Jane has to keep her cool and stave off the cutthroat machinations of her colleagues, the growing suspicions of Malloy, and stay “three steps ahead” of everyone else as she ascends the corporate ladder. “Helping” her is her patron saint, St George, who Sarah Jane believes has been guiding and intervening for her since childhood (she also has a bust of St George that she prays to).
Miss Nobody is a deftly handled black comedy that benefits from a witty, not entirely unpredictable script, and succeeds thanks to a cast that expertly plays out the twists and turns of the plot. The underrated Bibb is terrific, blending gauche innocence with increasing steeliness in her efforts to get – and stay – ahead. (She also gets the best line in the movie, a perfect rug-pull of the audience’s assumption about her character, and delivered to perfection.)
The supporting cast fares just as well, from the ever-reliable Baker as Sarah Jane’s mother, to Bostwick as a slightly dodgy priest, and Lewis as the McKinney’s sole, dementia-suffering boarder. The various executives in Sarah Jane’s way to the top are all sly, manipulative creeps but they have their various quirks that help distinguish them from each other, and provide the raison d’être for Sarah Jane’s “dealing” with them (how she despatches Patrick Fischler’s arrogant, vile Pierre Jejeune is a particular highlight).
The movie zips along at a good pace, and the various deaths are well set up and executed (so to speak). Doug Steinberg’s script artfully mixes broad comedy, pathos and black humour, and Cox’s direction matches the spirit and genial absurdity of the script’s basic premise. As already noted, there are twists and turns – loads of them – some delightful exchanges between Sarah Jane and Bill as he tries to unravel the puzzle of so many deaths at one company, and there’s a final cliffhanger that will either annoy you, or – hopefully – make you smile at how appropriate it is.
Rating: 7/10 – charming and entertaining, Miss Nobody is a great way to spend ninety-two minutes, helped immeasurably by Bibb’s wonderful performance, and a very confident script.
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.
Cast: Jean Parker, Wallace Ford, Jed Prouty, Suzanne Kaaren, Harland Tucker, Evalyn Knapp, Robert Frazer, Dorothy Lee, John Holland, Maxine Leslie, Paul Fix, Betty Compson, Matty Fain, Byron Foulger
When journalist Wally Williams (Ford) and his just-married-that-morning bride Alice (Parker) arrive in New York for their honeymoon, little does Alice know she’s about to find out just how committed her husband is to his job. Within seconds of arriving at the building where they’ll be staying, Alice sees a body fall from a nearby building. Rushing over to the scene, Wally purloins a piece of paper from the dead man’s hands then runs back to Alice is waiting, rushes into their building, commandeers the telephone and phones the news through to his editor at the Globe, Gordon MacEwan (Prouty). Soon, MacEwan is doing everything in his power to keep Wally on the story, and away from an increasingly isolated and fuming Alice. The piece of paper turns out to be a personal ad from the Globe. This leads Wally to another dead body, and a deepening mystery involving a pacifist organisation. All the while, Alice remains at a loose end in their honeymoon penthouse, except for visits from some of the other newspaper wives, including Angela (Kaaren). As Wally’s plans to spend time with Alice are either curtailed or he finds himself hijacked, he finds himself torn between wanting to spend time with her, and solving the mystery.
A Monogram picture – one of twenty-nine released in 1941 – Roar of the Press benefits from its two leads’ performances (though Parker is sorely underused throughout), and the kind of newsroom comedy made popular by His Girl Friday (1939). While the mystery itself is rather dull and only routinely presented – it doesn’t really take centre stage until the last twenty minutes – and the domestic issues are repeated a little too often, its the characters that make the movie, from MacEwan’s story-at-all-costs approach, to Mrs Mabel Leslie (coincidentally, Leslie)’s acid take on the reliability of newspaper men, to dodgy businessman ‘Sparrow’ McGraun (Fix) who proves to be a valuable friend to Wally, and to henpecked Eddie Tate (Foulger), a fellow newshound. These and other smooth characterisations provide the enjoyment the movie’s plot sadly lacks, and shows the cast picking up the slack with enviable ease. This is one of those B-movies where, by the end, everyone’s an old friend.
Rosen, who cut his teeth working successfully in silent movies, here does his best with some really slight material and keeps things as engaging as possible. His skill as a director isn’t tested here, and while some aspects of the movie are handled well, Roar of the Press always feels like an assembly line production where everyone was encouraged to knock off early but thankfully didn’t. The script, by Albert Duffy from an original story by Alfred Block, struggles to unite the two story lines – crime mystery and domestic drama – and the dialogue isn’t as snappy as it would like to be. The photography by Harry Neumann is proficient enough, but often settles for a standard medium-shot that doesn’t help the movie visually. For true movie buffs out there, there are also one-scene cameos for Dorothy Lee (regular foil to Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey) and Betty Compson, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by I. Stanford Jolley.
Rating: 5/10 – it often misses the mark (sometimes by a mile) but Roar of the Press gets by thanks to sterling work by its cast, and by having a director who can (mostly) elevate poor material; if you’re a fan of Ford or Parker then by all means track it down, otherwise this is one trip to the newsroom that can be missed.
NOTE: Currently, there’s no trailer for Roar of the Press.
The last two movies reviewed on this blog, Killers from Space (1954), and Renegade Girl (1946) were both viewed via the website archive.org. This fine site, which I have been visiting regularly this year since re-discovering it after a few years’ gap, is a haven for public domain movies, most of which viewers outside of the US are unlikely to see in anything like their original format or running time (but more about this later). Old serials, early crime thrillers, more Westerns than you can shake a cowhand at, silent films, sci-fi movies from the 50’s and 60’s, cheap horror movies, all the low-budget guilty pleasures you could possibly ask for are all here in their thousands.
Founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle, the Archive is a non-profit digital library. The organisation is dedicated to the permanent storage of and free public access to collections of digitised materials, including websites, music, other audio files, moving images, and nearly three million public domain books. At time of writing, the Archive has over 3,800 feature films in its collection.
How it works is this: members of the site upload movies in the public domain onto the site in a variety of formats, sometimes Ogg video, sometimes 512kb MPEG4, or plain old DivX. You can then either log in as a member, or not, and then either download the movie in the file format that suits you, or just stream it for instant viewing. (The reason there was a gap in my use of the site was down to the poor streaming capability the site had a few years ago; now it’s much improved.) If you download a movie it’s yours to keep for as long as you like. What could be simpler?
Well…several things as it turns out. The Archive is unwieldy to use, with even its own search function set up to work against you sometimes. If you don’t know the full title of a movie, maybe only one word – and that word is, say, “ghost” – then you’ll potentially discover hundreds of movies or clips or adverts or videos where the word “ghost” is either in the title or the description, and leaving you to scroll through them all trying, hoping, to find the one you’re looking for. And make sure you type your search word in the Search: box and select Movies (10 lines down) from the All Media Types dropbox, otherwise things will become very frustrating, very quickly.
Once you have found the right movie, and you’re ready to download or stream it, hold fast before continuing any further. Some of the movies on the Archive are not complete. In fact, quite a few fall short of their total running times by as much as ten minutes. This is because a lot of the movies that have been uploaded have been done so from video or DVD, and the companies that produced these releases haven’t always made an effort to source the best versions. Some are versions edited for TV, others are second- or third-generation copies, often with poor sound and picture quality. So before you start watching, check the running time with IMDb. My advice: if there’s only a minute or so’s difference between the Archive and IMDb, then don’t worry. You might notice some dropped frames, or ill-matched splices, but it shouldn’t deter from your (hopefully) enjoying the movie.
There are some real gems to be found hidden away in the Archive, and for me, part of the fun is finding them. I often just type in a random word and see what turns up (that’s how I found both Killers from Space and Renegade Girl). On the more famous side of things, here are a dozen public domain movies that are available on the site, and which everyone should have heard of:
The 39 Steps (1935), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Birth of a Nation (1915), Charade (1963), Reefer Madness (1936), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Kid (1921), Jungle Book (1942), Pygmalion (1938), The Most Dangerous Game (1932), The Battleship Potemkin (1925), and, of course, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
If you’re a movie buff like me – who can sit through anything – you’ll always find something interesting to watch on the Archive, no matter how badly presented it may be, or how dreadful – let’s not forget, some of these movies are in the public domain for a reason. But as a treasure trove of (largely) long-forgotten, occasionally-missed and surprisingly entertaining “old” movies (there are plenty of post 60’s movies to be found as well), the Archive is by far the best place to visit. Now…how many Renfrew of the Royal Mounted movies are available…?
Cast: Peter Graves, James Seay, Steve Pendleton, Frank Gerstle, John Frederick (as John Merrick), Barbara Bestar, Shepard Menken
Following an A-bomb test, scientist Dr Doug Martin (Graves) goes missing when the plane he was in collating data about the blast, crash lands, killing the pilot. A while later he returns to the base where he works overseeing the bomb tests. He can’t remember what has happened to him after the plane went into a nose-dive, or how he got a surgical scar on his chest that he didn’t have before. Given an initially clean bill-of-health by both the military – represented by Colonel Banks (Seay) and medic Major Clift (Menken), as well as FBI agent Briggs (Pendleton) – Martin is sent home with his wife, Ellen (Bestar) to recuperate. Instead, Martin becomes anxious about being able to work on the next bomb test, and attempts to get himself back on the team. Still considered a security risk by Colonel Banks and Briggs, Martin resorts to breaking into the safe where his colleague Dr Kruger (Gerstle) keeps the test data – well, he doesn’t exactly break in, as he knows the combination; as a perceived security risk, you’d have thought someone would have changed it straight away to avoid such a thing happening.
Martin then takes the information – on a scrap of paper, no less – out into the desert where he is surprised by Briggs. Following a short sequence where Martin tries to evade everyone looking for him, he is taken back to the base and given sodium amytal in an attempt to find out what happened to him after the plane crash. What Martin reveals is the presence of aliens on Earth, aliens with a plan to take over our planet, and who are hiding in the caves near the test site; they need the energy from the atomic tests to further their plans. Even after this, Martin isn’t believed. Can he save the day and thwart the aliens?
The answer is obvious; this is a 50’s sci-fi movie after all. And yes, it is as laughable as it sounds, and yes, the acting and the script and the direction and the photography and the sets and the dodgy rear projection and the aliens themselves – bug-eyed men who do become unsettling the more you look at them – all border on the dire, but Killers from Space, like the majority of 50’s sci-fi movies, plays everything straight, no matter how absurd or loony it looks and sounds. There’s no irony involved, no campy humour (such as began creeping in in the 60’s), and no attempt to make any more of its basic premise than it does. In short, it’s not aiming to be profound.
It’s fitfully entertaining, suffers from an extended sequence where Martin, trying to escape from the caves where the aliens are hiding out, encounters all manner of giant insects and lizards and tries to look suitably horrified (but fails), and has too many scenes that are stretched to ensure the movie doesn’t run at least fifteen minutes shorter (Martin, while hiding in his office until Kruger leaves, opens the door so many times to look out that you almost wish someone would see him, just to put an end to it all). As noted, the acting is borderline dire with only Pendleton and Graves showing any aptitude for the material, though not consistently. The ultra-low budget scuppers any attempt at making the movie look halfway professional, and Wilder’s direction proves that that his younger brother Billy definitely inherited the talent gene.
Rating: 3/10 – woeful, woeful, woeful, why fore art thou woeful? KIllers from Space wouldn’t have turned out quite so bad if anyone on the production side had had any idea of what they were doing; alas, they didn’t, and while Peter Graves and 50’s sci-fi completists should track it down, there’s nothing here for pretty much everyone else, even if you treat it as an unintentional comedy.
Cast: Ann Savage, Alan Curtis, Edward Brophy, Russell Wade, Jack Holt, Claudia Drake, Ray Corrigan, Chief Thundercloud
Opening in 1864, Renegade Girl is a mixed bag of a Western featuring Savage as Jean Shelby, a notorious road agent working with Quantrill’s raiders. She and her brother Bob (James Martin) have been passing information to Quantrill (Corrigan) in their fight against the North. When Bob is killed by renegade Cherokee, White Cloud (Chief Thundercloud), she vows revenge against him. At the same time she meets and falls in love with a Yankee captain, Fred Raymond (Curtis). Saving him from Quantrill and his men she ends up being wounded during an encounter with White Cloud.
Her recovery takes her a year. The war is over but Jean receives a visit from two of Quantrill’s men, Jerry Long (Wade) and Bob Crandall (Brophy). They tell her that the survivors of Quantrill’s band are hiding in the nearby hills and are looking to target people who helped the North win the war. Long has amorous intentions towards Jean and wants her to join them; at first she rebuffs him, but not having seen or heard from Raymond since she was wounded, she decides to join them on the understanding that they help her find White Cloud and kill him once and for all…
Filmed on Corrigan’s own ranch in Simi Valley, California, Renegade Girl is entertaining enough but suffers from too many close-ups of the dour, stony-faced Savage. While the character of Jean is meant to be proud, self-sufficient and courageous, Savage plays her instead as petulant and wilful. It’s not a great choice as Jean is a strong character with a good story arc and plenty of dramatic moments for any actress to sink her teeth into. Savage also adopts a kind of angry monotone to many of her lines and this approach soon becomes tiresome to hear. Supporting her, Curtis is largely colourless as her love interest, Wade brings an insouciant menace not often seen in low-budget Westerns as the devious Long, while Brophy shines – as always – as the loyal sidekick/comic relief; there’s a lovely, touching scene between him and Savage that’s worth watching all by itself. As the renegade Indian, Chief Thundercloud is badly underused and wears an unfeasibly tall black hat to mark him out as the main villain.
Otherwise, the script by Edwin V. Westrate is more than adequate, and while not entirely original, does take a few unexpected turns, as well as maintaining its moral through-line. There is redemption and sacrifice, and the decisions made by Jean are considered before she moves ahead with them. There’s even a short sequence where she has a kind of mental breakdown over something she’s caused to happen (Savage doesn’t play it particularly well though).
Berke – who directed five other movies in 1946, including the bizarrely named Ding Dong Williams – has a fluent shooting style and stages the various action sequences with a greater conviction than perhaps was expected by the budget. Occasionally his blocking of a scene leads to too many bodies being in the frame at the same time, but this is a minor quibble. The photography by James S. Brown Jr shows off Corrigan’s ranch to good effect, and the music by Darrell Calker adds to the mood of the movie without overwhelming it.
Despite the miscasting of Savage in the lead role, Renegade Girl is an enjoyable Western that zips along quite well and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Berke is a director to keep an eye out for, and while some of the more overtly romantic aspects of the script may cause advanced tooth decay in some viewers – Jean goes all googly-eyed over Raymond from the moment she first sees him – this is still a fun to way spend sixty-five minutes.
Rating: 6/10 – undone by Savage’s inability to understand her character, Renegade Girls is still far better than it appears on paper, and works best when focused on Jean’s almost primal need for revenge.
Cast: Christopher Mann, Laura L. Cottrel, K.J. Linhein, Doug Bradley, Tom Detrik, Carmela Hayslett, Jennifer Butler, Warren Hemenway, Kevin Fennell
Part thriller, part drama, part horror, Deer Crossing is a mixed bag to say the least, with elements from so many different genres it’s hard to keep track of them all. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on what’s going on writer/director Grillo turns the tables on you and leaves you thinking WTF?
At the film’s beginning, Maggie (Cottrel) and her six year old son Cole (Sebastian Banes) set out on a trip to visit her mother. They have an accident and are never seen again by husband and father Michael (Hemenway). Eight years pass and one day Michael receives a phone call from a boy claiming to be Cole and telling him that Maggie has died. Michael contacts the detective who was in charge of the original investigation, Stanswood (Mann), and asks him to look into it. At first the detective, recently retired and looking after his invalid wife, declines. Tragedy ensues and Stanswood then agrees to help. He travels to Carvin County and the small town where the phone call was made. Once there he encounters Sheriff Lock (Bradley) who proves less than helpful without being openly obstructive. It isn’t long however before suspicion points its ugly head in the direction of psychotic mountain man Lukas Walton (Linhein). And what Stanswood discovers proves to be only half the story…
By now, if you’ve reached this point in the movie you will already know Maggie and Cole’s fate and what part Walton has played in it. You’ll also know that director Christian Jude Grillo – here making his feature film debut – isn’t one for subtlety or a tight script. What you’ll also discover is that in a Christian Jude Grillo movie, padding comes along every five minutes or so in the shape of town hairdresser/brothel owner/drug dealer Gail Kennedy (Butler) and her amoral partner Randy (Detrik). Their antics take up far too much time and while both actors, Detrik in particular, are entirely watchable, their scenes are an unwelcome interruption to the main storyline. (Having said that, one scene featuring Randy threatening to lop off one gay punter’s nuts if he doesn’t obey the brothel’s rules is both disturbing and hypnotic at the same time. It may even be the movie’s best written scene; it just doesn’t fit with the rest of them.)
As Stanswood gets nearer to finding the truth, a truth the viewer is fully aware of, Grillo pulls off one majorly mean trick on the audience and two of his characters. It’s a real shocker, make no mistake. It also leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, and one that female viewers will probably not appreciate. By this stage, though, the level of misogynism the movie is unafraid to portray will probably have alienated them anyway.
But is the movie any good? On the whole, no. There are too many random scenes that have no relevance to the ones before them, too few characters to feel sympathy or root for, haphazard pacing and plotting, hazy character motivation, dialogue that sounds forced, okay performances (though Linhein makes a great villain), and at least two storylines that add nothing to the movie as a whole. Grillo does have talent, he just needs someone, a strong producer perhaps, to rein him in when he starts to throw everything including the kitchen sink into his movies.
Rating: 5/10 – a muddled thriller with torture porn overtones sadly sabotaged by its own director’s over-reaching ambition.
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.
Cast: Martine Beswick, Edina Ronay, Michael Latimer, Stephanie Randall, Carol White, Alexandra Stevenson, Sydney Bromley, Robert Raglan
The second of Hammer’s “cave girls” movies, Slave Girls begins with stock footage shot in Africa, then moves to a set bound hunting expedition led by David Marchand (Latimer). Tracking a wounded leopard, he ventures into the lands of the Kanuka tribe, where he is captured. Taken before their leader, he is told of their god, the white rhinoceros, and the legend surrounding it, that all trespassers on their lands will be executed until either the white rhinoceros (now extinct) returns, or the large white rhinoceros statue they worship is destroyed. At the point of his being executed, David reaches out to touch the statue. There is a flash of lightning, the tribesmen are frozen in time, and the rock wall behind the statue opens to reveal another part of the jungle.
David explores this new area and encounters a girl, Saria (Ronay). She attacks him but he knocks her unconscious. Immediately, he is surrounded by other women brandishing spears and taken prisoner. The women are part of a tribe led by the malicious Queen Kari (Beswick). It soon becomes clear there is a hierarchy here where brunette women have the power and blonde women are used as slaves. The men are all imprisoned in a cave. Asked by Kari to reign by her side, David refuses, and is imprisoned as well. Meanwhile, the blonde women plot to rebel against Kari and regain their freedom.
Watching Slave Girls over forty-five years on from its release, the first thing that strikes you isn’t the overtly sexist approach taken by writer/director Michael Carreras, or even the dreadful, convoluted storyline. Instead it’s the sense of déjà vu: isn’t this all terribly familiar? Well, yes it is, because the viewer is looking at the same sets and costumes that were used for Hammer’s first foray into the cave girl mini-genre One Million Years B.C. (1966). Full marks for economising then, but it’s subtly distracting. Once you get past that though, the full awfulness of the movie hits you full in the face, from the pallid direction to the atrocious dialogue to the contra-feminist approach to the material to the dreadful acting (some of the blondes don’t do themselves any favours in this regard), to the tribal dance routines designed to pad out the movie’s running time to the men all seemingly borrowed from a ratty beard and hair club.
And yet, as so often with Hammer’s movies from the mid- to late Sixties, Slave Girls retains a kind of quirky likeability. Despite its glaring faults (some as large as the white rhinoceros statue itself), the movie holds the attention throughout, is well-paced thanks to editor Roy Hyde, and offsets the limitations of the budget by providing some decent special effects in amongst the painted backdrops and cardboard-looking sets. The campy feel that would detract from several later Hammer movies is kept to a minimum, and Beswick is suitably cruel and manipulative as Queen Kari, while Latimer, all brooding stares and rampant masculinity, overcomes some awkwardness in his early scenes to gain increasing confidence in his role. As David’s love interest, Saria, Ronay proves surprisingly good, providing a strong counterpoint to Beswick. (Look out too for a brief appearance at the end by Steven Berkoff in his first, credited, screen performance.)
Made quickly as a response to the success of One Million Years B.C., Slave Girls fails to match that movie’s quality but does manage to be entertaining enough for all that. Hammer would go on to make two more cave girl movies, 1970’s When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, and 1971’s Creatures the World Forgot (also scripted by Carreras). Both films traded heavily on even more scantily clad women as part of their attraction, but neither were as barmy in terms of its script as Slave Girls.
Rating: 5/10 – saved by strong performances and Robert Jones’ art direction, Slave Girls holds a fascination that makes up for its many mistakes; a bit of a cult movie now and well worth watching on that basis.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez, Bruno Ganz, Rubén Blades, Sam Spruell, Toby Kebbell, Natalie Dormer, Goran Visnjic
An original thriller from the pen of Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor is a cautionary tale about what can happen when a good man does something bad. The ‘bad’ in this case is get involved in a drug deal where a $20m shipment, bound for Chicago from Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, is hijacked along the way. The good man is the titular (unnamed) counsellor, seen first expressing his love for Laura (Cruz). His plan is to use the money he’ll get back from the deal to set up their life together; he buys a very expensive diamond engagement ring for her, further stretching his finances. In on the deal with him is Rainer (Bardem, sporting another of his strange movie hairstyles) and Westray (Pitt). What none of them know is that Rainer’s girlfriend, Malkina (Diaz) is behind the hijacking. What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse as all three men try and stay one step ahead of the cartel that suspects one or all of them are responsible.
Like a lot of Ridley Scott’s movies, The Counselor starts off promisingly enough but soon tails off into something completely at odds with the original mise-en-scène. The cautionary tale becomes a darkly-comic thriller that becomes a series of improbable scenes involving the Counselor’s efforts to extricate himself from the mess he’s got himself into, before becoming an equally improbable electronic money heist set in London. All the while, the movie is punctuated with the kind of profound monologues (Blades’ especially) that nobody really says in real life, and clinically-filmed set pieces that offer brief release from the turgid nature of the screenplay. There’s no doubt that McCarthy is a great writer, but film is a medium that, on this occasion, he’s failed to get to grips with. His characterisations are only occasionally compelling, while the Counselor is required to fall apart as soon as he hears about the hijacking and just plummet further from there. Malkina has no back story, no reasons given for her actions and Diaz is left playing a modern-dress version of Lady Macbeth, but without the informed psychology. It’s a tribute to Diaz that Malkina isn’t played entirely one-dimensionally, but there are times when it’s a close-run thing. And the character of Laura is given little to do other than to provide a reason for the Counselor’s getting involved in the deal in the first place; after that Cruz is pretty much sidelined.
As you would expect from a Ridley Scott movie, The Counselor is a visual treat, Scott painting celluloid pictures with the same verve and attention to detail that he’s been doing since The Duellists (1977). The desert vistas in Mexico are beautifully filmed, as is the US back road where the hijacking takes place – a brutally short but bravura piece that is a stand out, along with Westray’s eventual fate. Scott’s grasp on a script’s cinematic requirements is as sharp as always, and while he is a supreme stylist, he doesn’t appear to have kept a firm hand on what’s being filmed; as a result there are several nuances that are missing or undeveloped, not least in the encounter between Malkina and Laura which could have resonated much more than it does. Instead it becomes just a scene where we learn Malkina can be manipulative for the sake of it.
While Diaz and Bardem’s characters make for an unlikely couple, their scenes together are fun to watch, but it’s Pitt who comes off best as the been there, seen-it-all, knows when to get out Westray. It’s he that predicts the movie’s outcome, he that tells the audience in his first scene what’s going to happen to at least two of the characters, and it’s he that has the best line in the movie: when talking about the cartel, he says, “…they don’t really believe in coincidences. They’ve heard of them. They’ve just never seen one.” There’s a great little cameo from John Leguizamo (uncredited), and as Malkina’s hijacker of choice, Sam Spruell exudes a cold menace that keeps you watching out for him even when he’s not on-screen. Fassbender has the unenviable task of getting the audience to sympathise with a character who looks for anyone else to get him out of the hole he’s dug too deep, and by the film’s end you wish the cartel would catch up with him and put him, and us, out of our collective misery.
The Counselor isn’t a bad movie per se, just a muddled, at times distracting movie that loses focus throughout, only to redeem itself with a scene or two of better impact. There’s a nihilistic approach at times, and often you don’t care what happens to anyone, even Laura, presented here as a (mostly) innocent bystander. It looks great, as expected, but there are too many hollow moments for it to work properly. As with a lot of movies, the script is responsible for this, and while this is only his second screenplay after The Sunset Limited (2011), McCarthy shouldn’t be discouraged from writing any more.
Rating: 6/10 – it could have been so much better, but The Counselor fails to engage on an emotional level, and while as you’d expect from Scott it’s a pleasure to look at, there’s too little going on too often for it to work as a whole.
Cast: C.J. Thomason, Stephen Lang, Michelle Pierce, Corbin Bleu, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Charles S. Dutton, Tauvia Dawn, Andy Favreau, Grayson Berry, Sabrina Gennarino
A modern-day adaptation of W.R. Jacobs’ classic horror tale, The Monkey’s Paw begins promisingly with a well-staged, condensed version of the original tale as seen through the eyes of Gillespie (Kelly) as a child. Years later, Gillespie is working as a supervisor at a factory. Also working there are pals Jake (Thomason) and Cobb (Lang). A mistake with an order gets Gillespie fired. Later that night, Jake and Cobb run into Gillespie at a local bar. He tells them about the monkey’s paw, and how it grants three wishes to whomever owns it; once the wishes are used, it can move on to another owner. Jake takes hold of the paw and makes a wish: that a car in the parking lot should be his. When Jake and Cobb leave, they look at the car and find the keys are in it. With Jake driving they go for a spin along some of the back roads. Swerving to avoid an alligator in the road, Jake loses control of the car and hits a tree; the impact sends Cobb through the windshield, killing him. In a panic, Jake wishes his friend was alive, then when it doesn’t work straight away, he flees the scene. After he’s gone, Cobb comes back to “life”.
So far, so good. Some real thought has been put into the set up, and the car crash is effectively staged. Cobb returns to “life” with some facial scarring, but otherwise, apart from some jerky movements, looks pretty normal. Jake throws away the paw in an abandoned building, and after a day or two brooding about what’s happened, tries to get on with his life. Until Cobb shows up, demanding that Jake use his third wish to bring Cobb and his estranged young son together again. Jake sees that Cobb’s return has made him dangerous and he refuses to do so. At this point, Cobb begins targeting the people Jake knows, including their boss Kevin (Favreau), his wife (and Jake’s ex-girlfriend Olivia (Pearce), Gillespie, and Jake’s brother and sister-in-law (Berry, Gennarino).
At this point, the movie starts to lose its way, opting for a Friday the 13th/slasher style approach as Cobb picks off Jake’s friends and family one by one. The previous slow-build of tension is left behind as Jake struggles to deal with what’s happening while at the same time trying to get back with Olivia. Motivations and logic are put aside as Cobb goes on an undetected killing spree, where the police, led by Detective Margolis (Dutton) are so far behind they might as well not be involved. Cobb kills with impunity time and again and seems able to vanish at will in-between times. Eventually, Jake retrieves the paw and there is a showdown at the home of Cobb’s estranged son.
The extended premise of The Monkey’s Paw, that those we bring back from the dead may want more from their new life than they could have had before, is an interesting one that could have been explored a lot further. Lang brings an initial pathos to his role, but it’s quickly put aside so he can become the script’s required psycho. (A mention here for how Cobb looks as the movie continues; aside from the facial scarring, he also shows more and more decay, courtesy of special makeup effects artist Emily Burka. It’s an intriguing look, which, if the movie had taken place over a longer period, would have added another layer to the character’s mental and physical decline.) Jake goes from cocky to desperate in the time to takes for Cobb to crash through the windscreen, and although Thomason – back in familiar territory after Simmons’ Husk (2011) – struggles to maintain a grip on the character as the movie goes on, he’s still a likeable presence on screen.
The script, by Macon Blair, as noted before has some interesting aspects in its first half hour, and if The Monkey’s Paw had retained this psychological approach, it may have turned out better. As it is, the movie suffers by lurching from one (admittedly) well-executed kill scene to the next, leaving the viewer in unnecessarily unoriginal waters and hoping for a better resolution (which doesn’t come). Simmons shows occasional flashes of creativity that bolster the script (the kill scenes), but ultimately he can’t get around the lack of imagination the script settles for.
Rating: 6/10 – there’s a better movie here than might have been expected but it’s severely let down by it’s need to fit in with an already overcrowded market; psychological horror movies are few and far between these days – this could have been one of them.
Cast: Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Richard Attenborough, Margaret Rutherford, Dennis Price, Irene Handl, Liz Fraser, Miles Malleson, Marne Maitland, John Le Mesurier, Victor Maddern, Kenneth Griffith, Raymond Huntley, Esma Cannon, Malcolm Muggeridge
When slightly gormless Stanley Windrush (Carmichael) tries finding work in management, he appears to be unemployable. One disastrous job application after another sees his employment agency at a loss as to what to do with him. Enter old army chum Sidney De Vere Cox (Attenborough) alongside Stanley’s uncle Bertram Tracepurcel (Price) to offer him a job at Bertram’s missile factory. The only drawback: he has to start at the bottom, working on the shop floor. Stanley agrees and it isn’t long before he’s causing problems with the union, led by pedantic shop steward Fred Kite (Sellers), and playing into the hands of his uncle and Cox. For unknown to Stanley, they are counting on his actions to cause a strike; with Bertram’s workforce tied up, a contract with Mr. Mohammed (Maitland) can be picked up by Cox’s factory at a higher price.
The joy in I’m All Right Jack – and there’s plenty to be had – comes largely from the pin-sharp script by Frank Harvey, director Boulting and Alan Hackney (from Hackney’s novel Private Life). The pretensions of the upper, middle and working classes are skewered with exquisite accuracy, from Stanley’s Aunt Dolly (Rutherford), horrified at his having to do manual labour, to Stanley’s own aspirations and over-confidence in his abilities, to the entrenched “us against them” attitude of Kite and the workers, I’m All Right Jack paints an only slightly exaggerated portrait of Britain in the late Fifties. Post-war attitudes and adjustments were still very much in effect, and there were remnants of pre-War social concerns present throughout Britain. The movie is successfully grounded thanks to this approach, and even if some of the political manoeuvring that occurs late on may seem far-fetched – or too simplistic even – then it doesn’t matter so much: the whole thing’s a bit of a farce anyway.
But there’s also a great deal of joy to be had from the performances. Carmichael perfects his exploited innocent character and puts in arguably his best performance. As the personnel manager, Major Hitchcock, Terry-Thomas has great fun with the lines he’s given, oozing charm and disrespect with aplomb. Rutherford is as dotty as ever, Price as unctuous and slimy as you’d expect in such a role, while Attenborough channels his inner rogue to admirable effect. In supporting roles, Irene Handl (as Mrs Kite) and Liz Fraser (as Cynthia Kite – and shot side on as much as possible) make a great team, and John Le Mesurier offers an anxious time and motion examiner (as well he might be). But of all these rich and varied performances it’s Peter Sellers who towers over everyone else, as the Marxist shop steward Fred Kite, a vainglorious man clinging to his beliefs and minor fiefdom with all the tenacity of an endangered limpet. He also has one of the best lines ever written: “We do not and cannot accept the principle that incompetence justifies dismissal. That is victimisation.” His terrified egotism and unswerving commitment to his political ideals hides a simple man thrust unwittingly into a position where he has to confront the absurdities of his convictions. The scene where he and Terry-Thomas try to work out a solution to the strike that will be acceptable to both sides is a masterclass in acting, scripting and direction, with Sellers showing a vulnerable side to Kite that is completely credible.
Boulting, fresh from the success of Lucky Jim (1957), here does an incredible job of pointing up the humour in the various situations without forgetting the pathos attendant with them. He has a firm grip on the performances, which although sometimes teetering on the edge of caricature never quite fall over the edge, and in tandem with photographer Mutz Greenbaum (credited here as Max Greene), keeps the movie well-staged and attractively shot in black and white. A mention too for Anthony Harvey’s measured editing, each shot and scene assembled in full service to the needs of the script.
It’s often said, “They don’t make them like that any more”, and it’s true. But movies such as I’m All Right Jack wouldn’t work today because they were so much a product of their times. Better to be grateful that they were made when they were, and when we had a cast of this calibre that directors could call on.
Rating: 9/10 – a classic British comedy that still resonates over fifty years later; excellent performances that support an excellent script that benefits from excellent direction – filmmakers who are as far from being “a complete shower” as you could possibly get.
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight, Rebecca Budig, Bruce Payne, Paul Freeman
It’s Xmas time in Sofia, Bulgaria. Ex-racing driver Brent Magna (Hawke) arrives home one evening and finds signs of a violent struggle, but no sign of his wife Leanne (Budig). His mobile rings. The voice of a man he doesn’t know tells him if he wants to see Leanne again Brent must do as the man says, beginning with picking up a specially modified car from an underground garage. Once he’s behind the wheel, Brent is set a series of tasks, all of which see him causing vehicular mayhem, and being continuously chased by the Sofia police.
During a breather, a young girl – whose name we never discover – tries to carjack him but he overpowers her. The voice tells Brent to ensure she stays in the car as she will be useful… and so begins a cat-and-mouse game in which Brent and the girl try to work out the voice’s plan and then thwart it. The girl proves vital to the plot – although her connection to the car is ham-fisted and beyond contrived – while Brent tries to regain his confidence as a driver after losing it on the racetrack (he’s supposed to be starting a new life in Sofia, but as what we never find out).
Getaway is by no means a cerebral thriller, far from it. It flexes its muscles and makes its intentions clear within the first ten minutes as Brent is forced to drive at speed through a park full of Xmas revellers and shoppers, hitting an assortment of stands and displays but miraculously missing everyone in sight. This is a blunt force trauma movie, with a car as the object of mass destruction. Brent collides with an abundance of police vehicles, he outruns them, he causes them to crash – the regular laws of mechanical physics are blatantly ignored as usual as cars flip and crash with tiresome abandon – he is never followed by a helicopter, and on the one occasion when he encounters a roadblock, he bluffs his way out of it in about five seconds flat. Yes, you’ve guessed it, this is one of those movies where plot, characterisation and a logical sequence of events are of no importance because the action is the thing, and the only thing.
So, are the action sequences exciting, varied, above average for this sort of thing? The answer is: once, in a sequence that involves Brent outrunning three henchmen on motorbikes. It ends in a train yard with the unlikely destruction of a marshalling platform that explodes in sections giving a slight rush as Brent speeds away from the increasing inferno. Aside from this one sequence, Getaway‘s action choreographer, the well-regarded and experienced Charlie Picerni, fumbles the ball too often to make sitting through Brent’s efforts to remain at large anything other than a chore. They almost make you want to listen to the terrible dialogue that co-writers Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker have hacked together. Add to all this an ending that feels like it’s been lifted from a discarded Mission Impossible script and you have a truly dispiriting ninety minutes.
Solomon, who gave us the equally execrable Dungeons & Dragons (2000), directs with all the flair of someone who’s learnt all he knows from kids cartoons. The film is clumsily edited as well by Ryan Dufrene, with images flicking between the video feeds from the car and Yaron Levy’s uninspired photography, as if further tension will be added that way. On the performance side, Hawke is so lacklustre it’s hard to believe he also appeared in the sublime Before Midnight this year, while Gomez, continuing her transition from annoying teen actress to annoying adult actress, fails to inject anything remotely approaching an emotion into her role, and handles the exposition with the grace of someone speaking in a second language.
It’s only the location work – recognisably Sofia and not filmed in a Canadian location masquerading as same – and the silky menace offered by Voight that elevates Getaway from the mire it inhabits for most of its running time. Without these two positives to save it, Getaway would be a complete waste of time. Action movies can be as dumb as they like as long as they deliver the goods action-wise; if they don’t then what’s the point?
Rating: 4/10 – car chases are always a good draw, and when they’re done right – Bullitt, The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A., Ronin – they can make a movie that much better, but when only one sequence out of a dozen or so works, someone should wave that checkered flag and call time; it’s a shame the filmmakers didn’t do so here.
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, Matthew Modine, J.K. Simmons, Lesley Ann Warren, Ron Eldard, Ahna O’Reilly, Victor Rasuk, John Getz, Kevin Dunn, Robert Pine, James Woods
Opening with the unveiling of the iPod in 2001, Jobs looks back at the founding of Apple, and the emergence of the Mac, while also providing a biography of Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs (Kutcher). The movie covers the years 1974 to 1996, and while there is at least one other movie that paints a better picture of those times – Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) – this tries hard to provide a fair representation of both the events that occurred and the people involved with them. That said, the focus here is squarely on Steve Jobs.
From the earliest moments at Reed College where Jobs has dropped out, the movie paints him as a maverick, well-liked, able to maintain relationships, but still an outsider. Two of these aspects would fade as time passed, but in these early days it’s easy to root for Jobs because he has an almost goofy enthusiasm for what he’s doing. When he sees what his friend Steve Wozniak (Gad) is working on, and realises the potential for the home computer market (which didn’t exist back in 1976), he persuades Wozniak to go into business with him, and Apple Computer Ltd is born.
Getting Apple off the ground isn’t easy, but Jobs pushes and pushes until the company is launched on the stock market. But there’s no overnight success story. The Apple II consumes so much research and development money that Apple is on the verge of being financially crippled; the shareholders start to question Jobs’ methods, and the board of directors, led by Arthur Rock (Simmons), relieve Jobs of his position as head of the company.
Asked by board member (and original investor) Mike Markkula (Mulroney) to work on another project that Apple had initially passed on, Jobs takes over the development of the Macintosh. The same motivations and working methods cause similar problems but the Macintosh is a revolutionary step forward for home computing. When the board is presented with the Mac they see its potential but have no idea how to market it. Jobs insists they hire John Sculley (Modine) away from Pepsi (he came up with the Pepsi Taste Test Challenge). With Sculley on board, everything looks set for the success everyone has waited for. But there’s a problem (isn’t there always?): the cost of making the Mac is prohibitive in terms of selling it to the public. This time, the board votes to remove Jobs from Apple altogether, and install Sculley as its CEO. Let down by everyone around him, Jobs turns his back on Apple and works on another project that he launches himself, NeXT. While this affords him modest success, the same can’t be said for Apple. The company flounders without him, the shares take a nosedive, and they spend too much time and money competing with Microsoft. With things spiralling out of control, the new board, led by Ed Woolard (Pine), bring Jobs back in as – at first – a consultant, and then as the new CEO. Back in charge of his own company, Jobs takes Apple forward on the journey that so many of us are grateful for.
As a one-stop shop for the early history of Apple, Jobs is consistently lightweight, both in its depictions of those early days, and the impact those days have on us now, and it’s the movie’s split personality that gets in the way. It wants to be a chronicle of those pioneering days when home computers were a dream that only a few could imagine. It also wants to be a biopic of Steve Jobs. And even though the movie runs over two hours, it always feels that there’s a lot of incidents and events that have been left out.
The movie also struggles to explain a lot of what was happening and why on a personal level. The relationship between Jobs and Wozniak is a case in point. Wozniak is the man largely responsible for the first Apple computer; his initial work paved the way for all the Apple computer products we use today. He and Jobs, at first, are great pals. But as the business grows and Jobs becomes more and more obsessed with making Apple a pioneer in home computing, their relationship withers until Wozniak decides he has to leave. Gad gets a compelling but ultimately “Hollywood” speech to make as Wozniak, explaining why he thinks things have gone wrong between them. It’s a rare moment in a movie that provides plenty of strong emotional moments – Jobs’ rant at Bill Gates over the phone is a highlight – but they’re not grounded in any kind of recognisable, explainable way. Jobs shouts at his co-workers to goad them on; Jobs refuses to believe his girlfriend’s child is his; Markkula says he’s on Jobs’ side the night before he votes with the board to force Jobs out; all these events or moments and more remain unexplained or unexplored.
The problem lies with the script by Matt Whiteley. It skims over a lot of events without attaching any depth to them, or overdoes the “significance” factor (Jobs throwing away a Walkman). The dialogue is often simplistic in relation to the people involved, but seems more sure-footed when dealing with the technical side of things. It also provides a few unintentional moments of humour, and in its efforts to cover such a long period of time, misses things out altogether (for example, Jobs’ marriage to Laurene Powell – she and their first child, Reed, appear out of the blue). Stern fails to address these issues, and while most scenes hold the attention, they often lack for any cohesion or cumulative effect – sometimes it’s like watching a series of vignettes.
Kutcher has a superficial resemblance to the younger Jobs, and this may be why he was cast. However, Kutcher is not an actor with a broad range, and there are several instances where he fails to convince, mostly when Jobs is being cruel: the conviction is there but Kutcher makes Jobs sound petulant as well, an aspect of his character that seems out of place. Mulroney and Simmons do well, as does Gad, although each actor has a minimal amount of support from the script and their director. The production design by Freddy Waff is solid if unspectacular, while Russell Carpenter’s cinematography gives the movie a welcome boost. For a movie made in the past year, it certainly looks like one made in the 70’s and 80’s, and that contemporary feel is one of the few positive aspects Jobs gets right.
Rating: 5/10 – a scattershot approach to the early days of Apple leaves Jobs as unrewarding as buying a Betamax video player must have been; watch only as a jumping off point, or to dip your toes in the water.
Cast: James Robertson Justice, Charles Hawtrey, Robin Hawdon, Yutte Stensgaard, Anna Gaël, Brigitte Skay, Dawn Addams, Wendy Lingham, Valerie Leon, Lionel Murton
Based on a story published in Zeta, a short-lived magazine from the 60’s that specialised in glamour/art photography, Zeta One concerns a race of women called the Angvians who live in a separate dimension to ours and kidnap women to ensure their race doesn’t die out. Secret agent James Word (Hawdon) is tasked with finding out where they come from, and to stop the nefarious Major Bourdon (Justice) and his henchman Swyne (Hawtrey) from succeeding with their own plans for the Angvians.
At this point I should mention that Zeta One is a sexploitation movie with sci-fi and spy movie trappings. So there’s plenty of partial and occasionally full-frontal nudity (though thankfully not involving either Justice or Hawtrey), and the kind of plot that involves nubile young women running around in next to nothing for no particular reason at all. There’s also a pantechnicon that serves as the device that enables trans-dimensional travel, a talking lift that won’t deposit anyone on the thirteenth floor because it’s superstitious, Angvian women who can kill by “shooting” with their hands, and Walter Sparrow as a strip club employee who repeats that all the girls inside are “lovely” and makes it look as if he got his lines mixed up.
The main storyline involves Bourdon trying to get a spy into the Angvians’ lair. He discovers that the Angvians’ next target is a stripper, Edwina Strain (Lingham). He kidnaps her first, gets her to swallow a tracking device (in pill form), then allows her to be kidnapped again (this time by the Angvians). The leader of the Angvians, Zeta (Addams), is aware of Bourdon’s game – though not the tracking device – and also the involvement of Word. She monitors everything and bides her time until one of her agents, Clotho (Gaël), is about to be killed by Bourdon. Then she instructs several barely clothed Angvians to eliminate Bourdon and his henchmen.
Zeta One was obviously a low-budget movie (there certainly wasn’t much spent on wardrobe), and the deficiencies of such a shoot are there to see on screen. Seen now, over forty years after it was first shown, it has a fascinating my-god-did-they-really-do-that quality. Hawdon spends most of his screen time in bed with either Stensgaard or Gaël, and turns up at Bourdon’s base of operations after Bourdon’s been defeated (and only after he’s put on some waders!). Justice and Hawtrey look embarrassed and non-plussed respectively, while Addams does the least she can in each scene she’s in. Why any of them are in the movie is a good question.
So the movie itself is cheesy, not even remotely prurient, and while there is a lot of female flesh on display these aren’t supermodels we’re talking about. It’s also slow in parts, notably at the beginning, and Michael Cort’s direction is hit-and-miss, the same as his script (he co-wrote it with Alistair MacKenzie), and the locations are underused. And yet… there are still things to enjoy, or that resonate. There’s the aforementioned lift, which comes completely out of left field; Word vs a revolving door; Hawtrey peering out of a phone box; Justice being kneed in the balls by Gaël and calling her a “little bitch”; the strip poker game that neither Hawdon or Stensgaard can win; and most disturbingly, the sight of Justice and Hawtrey standing over a topless Angvian who’s tied to a rack. On reflection it’s these little moments that make watching the movie worthwhile.
Rating: 5/10 – better perhaps than it should be and only because of its quirkiness (which I’m still not sure was entirely deliberate).
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.
Cast: Caitlin Wachs, David Keith, Paul Wesley, Samantha Jade, Ivana Milicevic, Michael Ironside, George Harris, Christine Adams, Leah Eneas, Eva-Jean Sophia Young
A sequel to Eye of the Dolphin (2006), Beneath the Blue is a family-oriented movie set in and around a dolphin research centre in the Bahamas, and concerns the attempt to steal one particular dolphin, Rasca. (I haven’t seen Eye of the Dolphin so I won’t refer to it in relation to this movie.)
The dolphin research centre is run by Hawk (Keith). His goal is to create a synthetic language that can be understood by dolphins and humans alike, and while he has made some amazing progress, it’s still early days. Helping him is his daughter Alyssa (Wachs), and a team of dedicated helpers including his wife Tamika (Adams). Their star dolphin is Rasca; she’s the most intelligent dolphin taking part in the programme and she’s allowed to come and go as she pleases.
Enter Craig (Wesley, from TV’s Vampire Diaries) and his sister Gwen (Milicevic). While Gwen occupies herself diving and seeing the sights, Craig shows an interest in Rasca and the research centre, but more specifically, in Alyssa. Alyssa hasn’t got a clue about guys so her friends set her up on a date with Craig and soon he’s helping at the research centre and spending time with Alyssa out on the ocean. But is Craig all that he appears, or does he have an ulterior motive for spending so much time at the centre and with Alyssa?
While all this is happening, Hawk is fighting a battle with the Navy over sonar testing. The testing is causing the deaths of numerous dolphins and he wants the Navy to either stop altogether or at least move to waters that would be safer for the dolphins. He butts heads with Captain Blaine (Ironside), who, while he’s sympathetic to Hawk’s concerns, doesn’t believe the problem is relevant in comparison with the lives sonar testing could save in the long-term. (As the movie points out at the end, this was a legitimate concern that was being addressed in US courts just before the movie was made; the outcome is delivered on screen.)
Up ’til this point the movie has been fairly predictable and even a little dull. The script lacks a little ‘zing’ and the cast, as a result, have little to work with. Then the truth about Craig and Gwen is revealed and now we have a bit of a thriller on our hands… but one that ends up becoming so far-fetched it undermines its own ambitions. It does make the movie more interesting to watch though, and although the outcome is never in doubt, you’ll be shaking your head and saying, “I know it’s a movie, but come on“.
Of the cast, Wachs is okay, but that’s because she’s not really given anything major to do apart from look doe-eyed at Wesley. Keith attempts to bring some energy to his role, and his scenes with Ironside certainly raise the dramatic bar but everyone else is pretty much going through the motions. The fault lies with the script which ambles along from scene to scene without really making an impact. Michael D. Sellers keeps things moving but again the pace is steady without really stepping up at any point, even during the chase sequence at the end. However, the photography does make the most of the beautiful locations, and while it may be churlish to say so, Wachs et al do look good in their swimwear.
Rating: 6/10 – dolphins are always a joy to watch so it’s good they get quite a bit of screen time, and as usual with marine based films it’s when this movie is on dry land that it flounders.
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.
Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Byung-hun Lee, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Brian Cox, Garrick Hagon, Tim Pigott-Smith
A surprise hit in 2010, Red was fun to watch because it had an ageing cast (Parker excepted) indulging in the kind of action movie heroics that (Willis excepted) you wouldn’t normally find them involved in. Everyone looked like they were having a great time, so it was almost a certainty there would be a sequel. And here it is.
Following on from the first movie, Frank Moses (Willis) is still having trouble settling down with Sarah (Parker). When Marvin (Malkovich) warns that someone is coming for both of them, he then fakes his own death. At the funeral, Frank is taken in for questioning by federal agents. Frank and Marvin are accused of having worked on Project Nightshade, an operation carried out over thirty years before whose purpose was to plant a nuclear bomb in Moscow. After Frank survives an attempt to kill him by sinister US agent Jack Horton (McDonough), the Americans hire Han (Lee) to complete the task, while the British give the job to old friend and ally Victoria (Mirren). Both countries have their reasons for putting Frank and Marvin on their most wanted lists, and as the movie progresses those reasons become clearer and clearer, and have a lot to do with missing-presumed-dead scientist Edward Bailey (Hopkins). In order to clear themselves, Frank, Marvin and Sarah travel from the US to Paris to Moscow and then to London in their efforts to stop the bomb from being set off. Along the way they are variously helped and/or hindered by terrorist The Frog (Thewlis), Russian official Ivan (Cox), and an ex-flame of Frank’s, Katja (Zeta-Jones).
The first movie, as mentioned above, was fun to watch, but Red 2 is a chore. From the opening sequence to the final scene, the movie lumbers from set up to set up, barely pausing to catch its own breath. If it did, if it gave itself a chance to breathe, then there’s more chance the audience would realise how poor a sequel it is, so the movie doesn’t let up. Willis, Malkovich and Hopkins overact as if their careers depend on it, while Parker stretches kooky to flat-out annoying. Lee is underused, McDonough makes the most of his early scenes, while Zeta-Jones succeeds in putting the fatal in femme fatale. Only Helen Mirren emerges unscathed from a script – by Jon and Erich Hoeber – that dispenses with any attempt at characterisation, pays lip service to the idea of a coherent plot, and includes some of the worst dialogue this side of an Adam Sandler movie (Jack & Jill anyone?).
The action sequences are perfunctory and often poorly edited, and the humour that punctuates the movie seems forced rather than organic. It’s the same old schtick from the first movie but less interesting and on a bigger budget. Parisot directs as if he’s not responsible for anything that appears on screen, and nothing can detract from the sense of hopelessness that builds toward the incredibly naff – and predictable – showdown between Willis and the movie’s main villain (their identity in itself completely predictable). It’s somehow more disappointing when a big budget movie with a talented cast tanks so badly – you’d think someone might look at the script and say, “hang on, can’t we do something about this?”. If this is a cast and crew that are doing their best, perhaps they just shouldn’t bother.
Rating: 4/10 – an unremittingly bad sequel to a moderately good first movie, Red 2 stutters and stumbles its way through a disaster of a script; saved from a lower rating by some good location work, and the pleasure of seeing Helen Mirren showing everyone else how it should be done.
Cast: Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, David Paymer, Anthony Fusco, Alden Ehrenreich, Bruce A. Miroglio
Several years ago, Francis Ford Coppola announced he would be making only personal films, and since then we’ve had Youth Without Youth (2007), Tetro (2009), and now Twixt, ostensibly a horror movie but one that veers off down several different paths before its conclusion.
Hall Baltimore (Kilmer) is a moderately successful writer of witchcraft-themed horror novels. He’s also in a bit of a creative slump. While on a book tour, he finds himself in the small town of Swann Valley. He meets Sheriff Bobby LeGrange (Dern) who tells him about a mystery that involves a dead girl and a group of teens camped out across the lake. The girl is recently deceased, “obviously the victim of a serial killer”, according to LaGrange, and still in the sheriff’s office-cum-morgue with a stake through her heart. That night, Baltimore falls asleep and dreams of walking through town and out into the surrounding woods. There he meets V (Fanning), a young girl who looks drained of blood. They go to the Old Chickering Hotel where Baltimore learns that the bodies of twelve children are buried under the floor. This adds to the mystery, and when Baltimore wakes up he realises the answers to both his creative slump and the murder of the dead girl are to be found in his dreams.
To give a fuller description of the plot would take a while as Coppola, serving as writer, producer and director, piles layer upon layer of story onto the already overloaded plotting. There’s several appearances by Edgar Allan Poe (Chaplin) who helps Baltimore in his dreams but also provides some literary allusions to the main plot. There’s a sub-plot involving a seven-sided clock tower where each clock face tells a different time. The twelve children were the charge of Pastor Allan Floyd (Fusco); there’s a protracted sequence involving a Jim Jones-style massacre. LaGrange acts strangely throughout, at one point knocking Baltimore unconscious out of anger (but also as a handy device for getting him to the next dream sequence). Baltimore is also mourning the death of his teenage daughter, while fending off the financial needs of his wife Denise (Whalley). The teens across the river, led by Beaudelaire-quoting Flamingo (Ehrenreich), provide temporary relief from the increasing pretentiousness of all the other proceedings. Oh, and there’s a scene involving a Ouija board, and Baltimore fighting writer’s block by impersonating Marlon Brando (with a near-quote from Apocalypse Now) and James Mason amongst others, and an ending so abrupt you might wonder if you’ve nodded off and missed a few minutes.
From all this you could be forgiven for thinking that Twixt is a bit of a mess, and largely it is. Coppola has applied a kind of kitchen sink approach to the movie, and it would be a dedicated viewer – one prepared to watch it several times in fact – who could find a strict, coherent storyline that runs through the movie, and who could adequately explain the various diversions that Coppola includes. However, it’s unclear if Coppola himself knows exactly what’s going on, or why, and if he doesn’t, then the rest of us don’t stand a chance.
Visually, though, the movie is often stunning to look at, the initial dream sequences – at the Old Chickering hotel, Baltimore’s chat with Poe in the same location – all have a weird, surreal quality that suits the action that’s unfolding. The characters speak with a slight hollowness, and the colour scheme, all grey, metallic hues, looks wonderfully unsettling. This is where Twixt works best, in the dreamworld that Baltimore inhabits as often as he can. Coppola pulls out all the stops in these sequences, imbuing them with a sense of predatory menace that elevates them from perfunctory scenes of exposition to something more disquieting. Alas, the scenes in the real world lack any kind of sense or coherence, and as a result, bog down the movie unnecessarily.
The cast do their best under the circumstances, Kilmer injecting some humour when he can at the absurdity of LaGrange’s eccentricities, but otherwise going with the flow and committing to the script’s vagaries. Dern adds another oddball character to his repertoire, while Fanning plays the girl who may or may not have gotten away from the pastor (it’s never made clear) with an appropriate detachment. Chaplin copes well with some really dense, literary dialogue, and rest of the supporting cast do the best they can as well, particularly Miroglio as Deputy Arbus.
Ultimately, the best that can be said about Twixt is that it’s no better or worse than a lot of other horror movies made in the last five years, but definitely a step up visually. Coppola still knows how to construct a scene and have it play out – even if the internal logic is skewed – and he still has the confidence borne out of his many years as a director. He may not have made the best decision in working from his own script, and if truth be told, this may not be the best version of that script (some of the cast have apparently seen an earlier, different version), but despite the absurdities and the incoherent plot, Twixt still has enough going for it to make it worth watching, even if it’s just to say you have.
Rating: 6/10 – Coppola delivers what appears to be a train wreck of a movie, but on closer inspection, there’s still a few carriages on the track to rescue things; worth seeing for its hallucinogenic visuals and Kilmer back on form after too many low-budget thrillers.
Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Kim Bodnia, Kristian Halken, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Ranthe, Marie-Louise Coninck, Carsten Bjørnlund
A remake of 1977’s The Marksman, this updates the political cause from keeping Denmark a nuclear-free zone to one where the government is holding back information about an off-shore oil deal that involves the US.
The movie begins with a montage detailing the election of a new government, one founded on strong environmental credentials, in particular, the promise that their won’t be any drilling for oil in the area between the Danish coastline and Greenland. Nearly a year later, and the Government has done a complete u-turn; now, in conjunction with the US and Greenland there is a deal to exploit the oil fields that have been found, and which will see significant investment made in Denmark itself by the US. Journalist Mia Moesgaard (Dyrholm) takes part in a TV debate with government minister Thomas Borby (Kaas) where she is manipulated into appearing to advocate violent reprisals against the drilling. Watching the broadcast is a geological worker, Rasmus (Bodnia). He has information that proves the government is lying about vital aspects of the oil field. He also agrees with the idea that violent action is the way to force the issue out into the open. He sends Mia the information he has gathered, but while the newspaper strives to confirm the figures he’s provided, he takes it upon himself to target the people he feels are responsible for betraying the Danish electorate. Soon, he and Mia are being regarded as in collusion, and Mia has to do everything she can to stop Rasmus from carrying out his plan to stop the deal from being ratified.
Like its predecessor, Skytten relies on its conspiracy to provide the driving force for the movie, and while the notion that the government is covering up a big lie is usually a reliable one, here it appears to boil down to just how much oil is under the sea; it’s only in the closing minutes that the real reason for the deal is revealed, and even then, it’s still an underwhelming one. It’s an approach that comes close to undermining the movie’s credibility as an exciting political thriller – which it remains – but a better scenario would have been preferable.
There’s also an awkward sub-plot involving Mia adopting a child from India. She has to attend an adoption meeting in India in a few days from when Rasmus contacts her; if she doesn’t then she loses her chance. So now we have a race against time on two fronts, with Mia desperate to stop Rasmus as much for personal reasons as to stop him from killing someone. It’s an uneasy decision that the filmmakers have gone for, a mixture of the personal and the political, and while Dyrholm copes with the emotional tug-of-war that defines her character, it doesn’t quite work: her journalistic instincts always seem stronger than her maternal ones.
As for Rasmus, Bodnia keeps him removed emotionally, playing him almost passively, as if he has no choice in what he’s doing. His motives are clear, but there is little to explain his reasons for taking the action he does. In some respects it makes for a more interesting character, but ultimately he remains a cipher, there to provide the danger the movie requires but providing the viewer with little else than an avenging angel. That said, in his scenes with Mia, his presence is unsettling, and you’re never sure how he’s going to react when she challenges him over his actions.
Although the meat of the story is the effort to track down Rasmus and prevent him from disrupting the deal’s ratification, there are nods in the direction of newspaper censorship, civil liberties, whistle-blowing, and political expediency, all of which help to ground the thriller aspects and darken the main theme even further. Olesen, who directed four episodes of the series Borgen, keeps a firm grip on things throughout and knows when to up the pace. The final sequence, where Mia tracks down Rasmus while everyone else thinks he’s heading for the border, owes a little to Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal, and makes for a satisfying conclusion.
Shot in a familiar, wintry style by cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk, Skytten works best when focused on Mia or Rasmus, and both actors give good performances. The tension that mounts gradually until the final showdown is aided by fine editing courtesy of Nicolaj Monberg, and if the denouement is a trifle pat it doesn’t detract from what’s gone before.
Rating: 7/10 – an absorbing, occasionally over-elaborate movie that works well on the whole but trips over itself in its efforts to be clever; good central performances keep it from faltering completely.
Cast: Michele Alhaique, Greta Scarano, Aylin Prandi, Giorgio Colangeli, Michele Riondino, Paola Tiziana Cruciani, Paolo De Vita
Diego (Alhaique) and Cinzia (Scarano) have been engaged for ten years and finally their wedding is approaching. Diego is having second thoughts about getting married, and while he loves Cinzia, he has the usual young man’s doubts about committing himself. He works as a builder, and while working on a housing project for a Ristoratore (Nick Nicolosi), he’s asked to do some work on the apartment of the man’s niece Viola (Prandi). For Diego, meeting her is like a bolt out of the blue. Viola is a free spirit, a contrast to the practical-minded Cinzia. Where Cinzia’s focus is purely on the wedding, Viola is carefree and artistic; she and Diego go for walks, she gives him a book to read (Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart), and eventually their relationship becomes more intimate. Soon, Diego is leading a double life, and his relationship with Cinzia begins to break down. And then her friend Maria (Cruciani) sees Diego and Viola together…
Scattered Cloud is an engaging, simply told movie that holds the attention but for most of its running time doesn’t really offer anything new (although it does wrong foot the viewer a couple of times). The two relationships – Diego and Cinzia, Diego and Viola – are given equal screen time, and all three actors give good performances. Alhaique portrays both his reluctance to marry and his infatuation with Viola skilfully and with confidence, while Scarano ensures that Cinzia, who could have been just a scold, is shown as being tough and vulnerable at the same time. Prandi does well also with a largely underwritten role, providing Viola with a child-like intensity that allows Diego to see the world around him a little bit differently. (It comes as no surprise when the Ristoratore warns Diego that Viola is “unstable”, but this isn’t taken any further.)
Di Biagio handles things with ease, and directs his cast with a confidence that allows them to expand on the characters as written (he also wrote the script). The movie’s visual style is naturalistic, with an emphasis on low-key lighting and tight close-ups on the characters’ faces. While the script anchors the movie in too-familiar territory, including a sub-plot involving discontented workers at Diego’s workplace, there’s enough here to engage the viewer and keep things interesting, even if, at times, you can anticipate a lot of the dialogue. A mention too for Francesco Cerasi’s score, sparsely but effectively used, and using subtle motifs to highlight the characters’ moods.
Rating: 7/10 – an almost traditional romantic drama, with flashes of humour, that is easy to watch but lacks any real depth or packs any real emotional heft; a pleasant enough diversion that relies heavily on its performances.
Cast: Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, George Nichols, Kate Bruce
An engaging tale of romantic deception, An Arcadian Maid sees Priscilla (Pickford) finding work on a farm run by a farmer (Nichols) and his wife (Bruce). Shortly after, Priscilla is approached by a peddler (Sennett) who pays attention to her before showing his wares to the farmer’s wife. Unable to make a sale, the peddler speaks again to Priscilla. Before he takes his leave he gives her a ring, and declares them betrothed. Later, in town, the peddler loses what money he has in a gambling den. Aware that the farmer and his wife are in possession of a large sum of money, and determined to clear his gambling debts, the peddler persuades Priscilla to steal the money for him.
An Arcadian Maid was one of 96 short films D.W. Griffith made in 1910 – that’s one movie nearly every four days – and it plays simply and effectively. Pickford may throw her arms in the air a few times to show agitation, and Sennett play with the ends of his moustache a little too often, but this is a pretty straightforward tale of petty larceny and shattered romantic dreams. The pleasure to be had from a lot of movies of this period is the very brevity that forced filmmakers to focus on what was necessary and important to the storyline (here the work of Stanner E.V. Taylor); it wouldn’t be unfair to say this is as lean a piece of filmmaking as you’re likely to see under any circumstances. Griffith marshals his cast to good effect, and keeps a tight grip on proceedings. G.W. Bitzer’s photography is sharp and well-lit (not always the case with movies of this period), while the two leads work well together, lending an air of credibility that, as with the photography, wasn’t always the case.
The ending rounds off proceedings satisfactorily, with the villain punished and the heroine redeemed. Griffith’s strengths as a director are in evidence: the affecting nature of the peddler’s wooing of the naive Priscilla; the tension created when Priscilla steals the couples’ money; the peddler’s dramatic comeuppance; and Priscilla’s redemption thanks to the intervention of Fate. Griffith was a very “proper” director, even for the time, and his moral fables were popular; An Arcadian Maid gives a good indication why.
Rating: 8/10 – an involving and rewarding tale that cements Pickford’s rising stardom, and also gives a clue as to why Sennett moved into the production side of things; a small, rarely seen gem that bolsters the importance of the silent short film.
Cast: John C. McGinley, Paul Hipp, D.B. Sweeney, Ed Harris, Janet Jones, Moira Kelly, Rex Linn Tanya Mayeux, M.C. Gainey, Mark Moses, Pat Hingle
Three friends, Mark (McGinley), Jason (Hipp) and Billy (Sweeney), embark on a road trip to see a championship football match, partly because they haven’t done anything together like this for ages, and partly to escape the troubles they each have at home. Mark is a gambler, in deep with his bookie. When a collector (Brian Doyle-Murray, the movie’s co-scripter) comes to his home, his wife Sherry (Jones) takes their son away with her until Mark can get his gambling under control. Jason is a bit of a nerd, disrespected by his work colleagues and unlucky in love; he just wants to break away from the small town ties that bind him. And Billy, a singer who never saw a musical career materialise and who now works in a warehouse, has discovered his wife Kate (Kelly) is having an affair.
On the way to the game the three friends must overcome the usual hurdles – losing their map, arguments amongst themselves, deciding whether or not to fake their deaths, to ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms or not to – and find the inner strength to make their lives a whole lot better.
To date, this is actor D.B. Sweeney’s only directorial outing, and while Two Tickets to Paradise is wildly uneven and struggles to maintain its dramatic focus, there is still much that works. Working from his own (co-written) script, Sweeney’s strengths as a director come to the fore in his handling of his cast. McGinley and Hipp give life to otherwise stock characters, and the supporting cast add flavour to the proceedings. The lead trio have a great chemistry together and if the resolutions to their individual dilemmas are entirely predictable, then it’s no fault of theirs.
Where the movie fails is in its structure and its storyline. The events that happen during the road trip don’t always ring true, especially when the guys try to impress three stoned young women and Jason ends up remarking on one woman’s “hoe tag” (tattoo); it’s a horribly misogynistic moment that sits uneasily with the movie’s mainly light-hearted approach. There’s no urgency about the trip, even when they lose their car, and it seems as if the game is weeks away. Sherry has a change of heart about Mark and decides to meet him at the game, but misses him, only to reappear later when one of them ends up in the hospital (and how did she know they were there?). Likewise the collector, who finds Mark at a motel they hadn’t booked ahead of time.
There’s also a recurring subplot involving Billy’s inability to stand up for himself. Time and again Mark tries to goad him into reacting, and while it’s fine once, by the fourth time it’s not only tired but frustrating as well (we get it!). Add to that the unlikely romance between Jason and Janice (Dilsey Davis), born out of a shared love of darts, and you have a movie that fails to work in so many ways that it almost becomes distracting.
I say “almost” because even with all this, Two Tickets to Paradise is a lot of fun to watch. It all hinges on the performances, and the humour Sweeney and Doyle-Murray have imbued the script with. The three leads are obviously having fun and this comes across as they make the best they can of often very thin material. (It would be interesting to know if there was any improvisation that made it into the final cut.) The humour, while broad at times, is still underplayed by all three, and there are plenty of one-liners that hit the mark with well-timed accuracy. Add in a touch of pathos here and there, and Two Tickets to Paradise proves vastly more effective on the comedy front than it does with the dramatic.
Rating: 6/10 – hit-and-miss throughout but on the whole an entertaining movie with enjoyable performances from its leads.
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.
Cast: Billy Burke, Michael Jai White, Christian Slater, Breanne Rocano, Crispin Glover, Sabina Gadecki, Roger Bart, Andy Dick, Bill Duke, Gloria Hendry
When bomb squad detective Chris Mankowski (Burke) transfers to Sex Crimes he meets Greta (Gadecki) who reports she was raped by multi-millionaire pothead Woody Ricks (Glover). Ricks’ arrest leads to strings being pulled and Mankowski being suspended. Determined not to let Ricks get away with it, Mankowski agrees to help Greta get some financial compensation from Ricks. Meanwhile, two 60’s radicals, Robin (Rocano) and Skip (Slater), convinced that Ricks gave testimony that led to their being imprisoned, plot to relieve him of the $50 million he’s just inherited. To do this they plan a bombing campaign that will frighten him into paying up. In the middle of all this is Donnell (White), Ricks’s bodyguard-cum-personal assistant. He ends up as the go-between for all parties, while trying to defraud his boss of the $50 million himself.
An adaptation of the novel by Elmore Leonard (his personal favourite, apparently), Freaky Deaky – as adapted by writer/director Matthau – has an air of listlessness that it doesn’t quite shrug off, despite some good casting, and a neat line in Leonard’s trademark dialogue. On the page, Leonard’s plots fairly zing and fizz with an energy born from Leonard’s sparse prose. Here, that energy is missing from a movie that fails to generate more than a Chinese burn of excitement. The result is that Freaky Deaky plods from scene to scene without really drawing its audience in, which is a shame as the structure is sound, and as mentioned above, the cast are well-matched to their roles (Slater continues his mini-renaissance with a well-judged take on a mild-manic bomb maker) and there’s some great visual gags (Ricks’s car in the driveway, Ricks trying to put on his pants).
Of the rest of the cast, Burke is saddled with a good guy role that lacks shading, while Glover almost steals the show as the permanently drug- and alcohol-addled Ricks, all vacant stares and poor co-ordination. I say almost because White just beats Glover into second place, playing a seen-it-all ex-con dealing with each successive twist and turn of the plot with weary resignation and some of the best, drollest dialogue on offer. But while the male cast fare well, the same can’t be said of Rocano and Gadeski. As Robin, Rocano sails perilously close at times to coming across as merely a one-note revenge-seeker, while Gadeski does her best to avoid being just eye candy. It’s not their fault, just the way the script has been written.
Matthau has been quiet since 2005’s rom-com Her Minor Thing, and while he’s to be congratulated for persevering through Freaky Deaky‘s troubled production – its original cast, including Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser and Katie Cassidy, were replaced by Burke et al in 2011 – the end result is a disappointment. There’s no flow to the scenes, and it’s obvious the budget was an issue, but even with all the obstacles in the movie’s way, it deserved better. There are few really good adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s work out there, and sadly this isn’t one of them.
Rating: 5/10 – not as impressive as it could have been given its cast, but helped immeasurably by them, Freaky Deaky serves as a reminder that adapting a well-written, well-received book isn’t as easy as it looks; one for Leonard completists only.
Several years in the making, Gravity arrives with a tremendous amount of expectation attached to it, its cutting-edge visuals hinted at in both trailers that preceded it. What wasn’t given as much emphasis was the storyline. Having seen Gravity there’s a good reason why…
Towards the end of a shuttle mission to service the Hubble telescope, mission specialist Dr Ryan Stone (Bullock) and retiring astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are working outside the shuttle when they’re advised by Houston Mission Control (Harris) that debris from a Russian satellite (recently destroyed by the Russians) is heading towards them. Before they can get back inside the shuttle, the debris hits, killing another member of the team and disabling the shuttle altogether. After Kowalski saves Stone from spiralling off into space, they head for the nearby International Space Station in the hopes of using one of its landing modules. But things don’t go according to plan…
There’s more to the story than that, but to mention any more would be a shame in terms of spoiling things, even if what does follow is disappointing in terms of the plot and Stone’s development as a character. Suffice it to say there follows a series of cliffhangers, and even though you can probably guess that Stone makes it back to Earth – doesn’t she? – it’s the way in which it’s arrived at that stops Gravity from being better than expected.
Thankfully, the visuals are superb, with space represented, if not accurately, then with a verve and a verisimilitude than adds to the (mock-)realism. The scenes where Stone is tumbling through space after the debris strike, where Earth seems to be tumbling around her as much as she is, are breathtaking, as is the opening sequence where the camera appears to be roving around the Hubble telescope in a dizzying whirl of images. As the movie continues, each scene is a feast for the eyes, with a standout moment coming when Stone reaches the ISS and the camera’s point of view – roving around Stone at first – suddenly becomes her point of view from inside her helmet (in 3D this effect is even more impressive). The technical advancement on view is nothing short of incredible and come the awards season, Gravity should be a shoo-in for pretty much every technical award going. The amount of work director Cuarón, director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber have put into creating “space” as it’s never been seen before, close-up and frequently terrifying, has resulted in a movie that is both beautiful and astonishing to look at.
But still there’s Stone’s character and back story, neither of which inspire much of a connection, and stops the audience from empathising with her as much as needed. She remains a fairly reticent, removed character from beginning to end, and while Bullock does her best to project a degree of steely vulnerability, she never quite manages it; Stone only “steps up” in the final ten minutes and even then it seems forced rather than the organic conclusion of her journey for survival. Equally, Clooney isn’t best served by the character of Kowalski, a glib would-be raconteur with a story for every occasion that belies, and even undermines, his experience as an astronaut.
Rating: 7/10 – seen in 3D, Gravity is a genuine cinematic experience, and all the more impressive for being converted in post-production. There hasn’t been such an exceptional 3D movie since Avatar. It’s a shame then about the muted characters and the undercooked storyline.
Cast: Dominic Purcell, Erin Karpluk, John Heard, Edward Furlong, Keith David, Michael Paré, Lochlyn Munro, Eric Roberts
Security guard Jim Baxford (Purcell) and his wife Rosie (Karpluk) are faced with mounting debts when Rosie’s post-cancer treatment proves to be too expensive. Soon their medical insurance is capped, the savings they had invested are wiped out by fraudulent banking practices engineered by Jeremy Stancroft (Heard), they max out their credit card, the bank refuses to extend them any further credit then informs them they’ll be foreclosing on their property, and to top it all off, Jim loses his job. Can things get any worse? Well, yes they can, but then it’s up to Jim to fight back and redress the balance.
Set against the backdrop of the recent financial meltdown in America, Assault on Wall Street takes a simple tale of financial woes pushing a good man into doing (very) bad things, and turns it into something turgid and forgettable. Baxford’s response is to become judge, jury and executioner of every bigwig investment banker he can train his ‘scope on. There’s a long, slow build-up to all that, though – around seventy minutes – and as setback after setback is piled on poor Jim’s back, you’re supposed to feel so sorry for him and his plight that the extreme course of action he embarks upon seems entirely reasonable; forgivable even.
But when all’s said and done, this is an old-style vigilante movie. Purcell makes for a cut-rate Charles Bronson, but at least has a better range of facial expressions (though check how he looks at a funeral: his eyes are so red and wet he looks like he’s been Maced). The main difference here is that Bronson’s Paul Kelso famously “took out the trash” while Purcell’s Jim Baxford merely goes on a killing spree. Like most vigilante movies there’s an unsurprising lack of moral depth on display, and what little there is is trampled underfoot by the banalities of Boll’s own script. At the film’s end, a voice over proclaims, “I promise I will keep killing” – nothing having been settled at all, other than the movie’s own requirement for some good old fashioned biblical-style bloodletting.
This being an Uwe Boll movie you can expect the usual disjointed montage sequences, a simplistic script peppered by implausible dialogue, the camera being in the wrong place at the wrong time so that even the simplest of scenes are visually confusing, performances that range from underwhelming to apparently improvised, and well-known character actors such as David and Paré (who should know better by now – Assault on Wall Street is his 11th movie under Boll’s direction) turning up to pay the mortgage without looking too embarrassed. In short, Assault on Wall Street is a very bad movie, and while Boll has made worse movies in his time (check out Bloodrayne: The Third Reich if you don’t believe me), this is a very slightly better movie than he usually makes. But don’t let anyone else tell you it’s a great deal better because it’s not: it’s leaden, unconvincing and slipshod.
That said there are some positives: Mathias Neumann’s photography is crisp and well-lit, and Jim’s firearm rampage is effectively choreographed, while Karpluk does a good job with her woefully underwritten role. Otherwise, this is one movie to avoid.
Rating: 3/10 – the sluggish pace and haphazard direction stifle any chance Assault on Wall Street had of being even remotely interesting. To all producers out there, a word of warning: if Uwe Boll wants you to finance his next picture, make sure he hasn’t written it as well.
A hit at both this year’s Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals, Concussion is a drama that looks at lesbian desire from the perspective of Abby (Weigert), 42 years old, in a loving yet loveless relationship with Kate (Lawrence), and who, following a severe concussion, finds a way to regain the sexual passion her life is missing.
Abby and Kate have a son and daughter who are both under ten, a group of close friends they socialise often with, a busy home life, and jobs that require a lot of time and effort from both of them: Kate is a lawyer, while Abby buys, renovates and sells vacant properties. Following her concussion, Abby finds an apartment that she wants to work on with her friend Justin (Tchaikovksy). With her sexual identity becoming stifled by Kate’s inattention, Abby visits a prostitute. The experience is a liberating one but she is unsure if she should pursue things further. She confides in Justin who tells her he knows someone who might be able to help her: his current girlfriend (Kinney) (known only as The Girl). And so, while Kate remains completely unaware, Abby embarks on a personal odyssey as a prostitute, using the apartment as the place for her appointments.
While Concussion is a thought-provoking movie that provides viewers with a well-rounded, intelligent portrait of a middle-aged woman dealing with a personal crisis, it’s also occasionally glib and paints a rather depressing portrait of middle-class suburban lives where wives play games such as “You Should”, and in this milieu at least, the men are only occasionally referred to or seen. This bitter backdrop helps highlight the difficulty Abby has in connecting with Kate: they don’t really communicate with each other. Even when Abby is spending far longer than usual at the apartment, Kate doesn’t suspect anything may be untoward; and equally, Abby carries on as if the two worlds she now inhabits will never overlap. At the movie’s start, Kate is the only one who is indifferent; now it’s Abby too.
Abby’s journey of rediscovery is well-handled, her encounters with a variety of women of all ages, shapes and sizes, painted by writer/director Passon with tenderness, wit and compassion. (One small complaint though: why is it only the young, slim clients that are seen semi-naked?) Each client has their story to tell, and Abby forges relationships with all but one of them, seeing them each several times. Over time she learns that very few relationships work out in the way people expect or want them to, and that her relationship with Kate is far from unusual in its dynamic. As for the sex scenes, Passon highlights the passion and desire inherent in each coupling, and Weigert excels in displaying both her physical and emotional needs throughout.
in fact, Weigert is excellent, by turns vulnerable, aggressive, confident, remorseful, anxious, frustrated, sexy and vital. Lawrence has the more subdued role but proves herself entirely capable of fleshing out her character’s vulnerability and emotional reticence. The rest of the cast make equally vital contributions, and there isn’t a false note to be had. Passon has a keen eye for the quirks and foibles of every day suburban life, and her dialogue is fresh and convincing. She’s a fine director, too, with an equally keen eye for composition and how one scene connects to another.
That said, there are plot contrivances – it’s convenient that Justin’s girlfriend is effectively a madam even though she’s in law school and looks like she’s still in her teens – and it’s a shame that we have another movie where the main characters can’t or won’t talk to each other thereby precipitating the movie’s raison d’être. But Concussion works as a compelling drama exploring one woman’s efforts to reclaim her sexual identity, and more pertinently, how a relationship can maintain an equilibrium despite little or no input from both partners. It’s this relatively under-explored aspect of the movie that resonates the most.
Rating: 8/10 – an absorbing tale that takes an honest, often unflinching approach to female sexuality and one woman’s need to redefine her sexual identity; an indie gem from a writer/director whose future projects will be worth looking out for.
Cast: Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Vicky McClure, Benedict Wong, Ger Ryan, Anthony Morris, Christian Brassington, Victoria Bewick
There are times when watching a Jason Statham movie is akin to watching an old friend do their favourite party trick: they may execute the trick with all their usual finesse (or lack of it), and they may add or refine it as they feel necessary. But when all’s said and done, it’s still the same old trick. The same is true of Hummingbird, a London-based drama that does its best to show that Statham has a broader range than we might think, but then still gets him to thump various co-stars and stuntmen.
Statham plays Joey, on the run from a military court martial and living rough on the streets of London. When we first meet him he’s sheltering in a cardboard box with a woman called Isabel (Bewick). They’re separated after an encounter with a local criminal enforcer called Taxman (Morris) and his henchman; Joey has tried to resist and been beaten for his efforts. He manages to get away over the rooftops and eventually finds his way into a flat where he discovers the owner is away until October (it’s now February). He cleans himself up, helps himself to the owner’s clothes and finds a new credit card amongst the mail piled up by the front door (as well as an envelope conveniently stamped Pin Enclosed).
Joey has become a drunk since going AWOL and despite his new-found good fortune he returns to the bottle. While drunk he goes to a shelter run by the Church and gives £500 to Sister Christina (Buzek); in the past he has relied on the food provided by the shelter and wants to give something back in return. Joey also asks her to find out what’s happened to Isobel.
Now at this point, one of two things could have happened: one, Joey spirals ever further into alcoholism before finding redemption through a selfless act, or two, Joey turns his life around and does things of true value before facing up to his past. But writer/director Knight comes up with a third option: Joey turns his life around and joins a Chinese crime syndicate. It’s an amazing choice and his motivation for doing so remains murky throughout. It allows for the requisite punch-ups that Statham is renowned for, but offers little in the way of real character development. His relationship with Sister Christina becomes more involved, almost romantic, but it’s her motivation that remains murky, and so the movie stumbles from scene to scene with no clear purpose or, ultimately, resolution.
Statham is an actor for whom expressing real emotion is always going to be a stretch, and he’s fashioned his career accordingly as the stoic loner who’s stony expression acts as much as a warning to others as a mask for his feelings. And while Hummingbird might be viewed as an attempt to show he has more skill as an actor than expected, the material doesn’t allow him to do so. He’s still the taciturn outsider, resorting to violence when necessary and doling out clipped lines of dialogue. There may be an emotional role out there that Statham would be entirely suited to, but this isn’t it.
As for the rest of the cast, Buzek offers a conflicted Sister Christina who becomes dangerously close to Joey and finds herself in turmoil because of it, while other characters come and go without making much of an impact. The exception is Max Forrester (Brassington), a particularly nasty punter who abuses prostitutes and finds himself the target of Joey’s somewhat confused sense of morality. Otherwise, this is a movie that concentrates on its two main characters.
The London locations are used to good effect – it’s always strange to see places like Shaftesbury Avenue largely deserted, whatever the time of day – and the production design by Michael Carlin is suitably grimy and depressing. Knight proves to be a capable director but sadly his own script lets him down; it’s an uneasy mix of unlikely romance, grim docudrama, social criticism, action movie and crime drama, and not all of the elements gel. There’s also a problem with the pacing, with some stretches slowing the movie unnecessarily.
Rating: 6/10 – not all bad but a disappointment nevertheless; Knight needs to tighten any further film scripts he writes, and Statham – if he wants to – should commit to a script that really stretches him as an actor.
Cast: Greg Grunberg, Ray Wise, Lombardo Boyar, Clare Kramer, Patrick Bauchau, Lin Shaye
With a title like Big Ass Spider! you know going in that subtlety isn’t likely to be the movie’s top priority, and yet the opening scene is just that. Our hero Alex (Grunberg) lies unconscious on the ground. He wakes, gets to his feet, and to the strains of Where Is My Mind? by Storm Large, we see him staring off in the distance as people run past him screaming, and debris clutters the street around him. The camera pans round so we can see what Alex sees, and there, perched on top of a downtown Los Angeles building is…a…big ass spider! It’s a great opening, and while in many ways it’s the best scene in the movie, it shows that the movie makers aren’t going the SyFy route and just throwing a movie together based on the title alone.
With the scene set we rewind to twelve hours earlier. Alex is helping regular customer Mrs Jefferson (Shaye) when he’s bitten by a poisonous spider. At the hospital he flirts (badly) with one of the nurses while down in the morgue, a body bag starts to show signs of something alive inside it. The morgue attendant soon becomes a victim of the not-quite-yet big ass spider. Soon the military arrive, led by Major Braxton Tanner (Wise) and his second-in-command Lieutenant Karly Brant (Kramer). Alex is already attempting to deal with the morgue’s new resident, but it soon becomes clear this spider isn’t like any other spider, and even though Tanner warns him off, Alex, aided by hospital security guard Jose (Boyar), decides to try and catch the spider by himself. What he doesn’t realise is that this particular spider is growing at an exponential rate, and soon will become…a big ass spider!
Despite the obvious low-budget and technical restrictions, Big Ass Spider! doesn’t disappoint when it comes to showing the arachnid going about its business of killing and encasing its victims in its web. A sequence set in Elysian Park is one of the movie’s highlights, as dozens of people are chased down and killed, and while some of the stabbing/impaling effects are a little shonky, they don’t detract from the horror the scene conveys. And when the spider eventually finds its way to the top of that downtown building, the falling debris effects are very well done indeed.
Director/editor Mendez and writer Gregory Gieras have done a great job in making a scary, funny, almost every expense spared creature feature that is consistently entertaining and above average in terms of execution and design. From the spider in its initial form – larger than average sure but scary purely because of the length of its legs – to its final gigantic size, the various incarnations of the spider are handled effectively and with panache, keeping it in the shadows to begin with, then showing it off in all its web-spinning glory. The cast too are fun to watch, with Boyar stealing the show as Jose, the “Mexican Robin” to Alex’s Batman. Alex is a slightly desperate would-be Romeo, and pursues Lieutenant Brant with wonderfully awkward humour; somehow he wins her over – surprise, surprise! – while Wise, an old hand at this type of thing, watches over things with increasing frustration and perfectly-timed exasperation.
Ultimately there’s nothing new here, neither in its characterisations or its plotting – the spider’s growth is the result of a mix-up in a military lab – and some of the dialogue is perfunctory, but it doesn’t matter one bit. From that memorable opening scene to the last-second possibility of everyone returning for Big Ass Cockroach!, Big Ass Spider! will put a smile on your face throughout thanks to its good-natured approach to the material, and the obvious love the movie makers have for this kind of movie.
Rating: 7/10 – obvious flaws notwithstanding, this is a fun ride that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and could easily pave the way for a sequel; More Big Ass Spiders! anyone?
The first screen adaptation of the British fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk is a charming retelling presented in nine scenes and one tableau. There is a pantomime cow that Jack (White) sells for the magic beans – at one point it butts the farmer selling it – his mother’s disappointment at Jack’s trade, the growing of the beanstalk, Jack’s ascent, his encounter with the giant (actually a tall man in comparison to Jack), his descent, and the hacking of the beanstalk thus causing the giant’s demise.
For its time, Jack and the Beanstalk must have been quite impressive. Films were rarely this long, and the idea of a developed narrative was some years away. There were other adaptations of literary stories but this one is superior in many ways, not least because of its length, and despite its painted backdrops and stage bound production. The special effects are similar to those imagined and developed by Georges Méliès – not unusual as Porter had been pirating his work for some time – and while the giant isn’t as fearsome as perhaps he should have been, Porter still manages to instil a real sense of menace when Jack hides from him. There’s also a nice element of dubious morality, as this adaptation shies away from any condemnation of Jack for stealing the golden eggs and causing the giant’s death; in effect he gets away with it, and all with help from some kind of approving fairy godmother.
Many of the techniques used in Jack and the Beanstalk were still being perfected, and as a glimpse back to a time when cinema was finding its feet and beginning to realise its potential as more than just a passing fancy, an “opium for the masses”, this movie is invaluable at showing just how advanced movies had become in such a short space of time.
Rating: 8/10 – far more than an historical curio, this is an entertaining and instructive movie that still resonates today as a simple tale – for the most part – simply told.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Rene Russo
Another sequel to Avengers Assemble, rather than to the first Thor movie, this opens with a prologue that introduces us to the Dark Elves, evil creatures who want to see an end to the Nine Realms (if you’re not a Marvel fan, just go with me on this). Their leader Malekith (Eccleston) plans to use the Aether, a swirling mass of energy that will allow him to do this when the realms are in alignment. Thwarted by Odin’s (Hopkins) father, Malekith is forced into hiding, and the Aether is hidden “where no one will find it”.
Fast forward five thousand years (how often the realms are in alignment) and Malekith returns to do his worst. Meanwhile, Loki (Hiddleston) is imprisoned in Asgard, Jane Foster (Portman) is unhappy that two years have past since she last saw Thor (Hemsworth), and Thor is busy bringing peace to the Nine Realms by fighting anyone who stands in his way. Alerted to strange phenomena in a deserted warehouse somewhere in London, Jane stumbles across the Aether and becomes its host. With Jane’s life on the line, it’s up to Thor to save both her and thwart Malekith’s evil plans. But in order to do so he’ll need help…
This third outing for Thor is huge fun from start to finish, with spectacular set-pieces, humour that ranges from subtle to broader than Volstagg’s (Stevenson) pectorals, gravitas courtesy of Hopkins (as Odin) and Russo (as Frigga), further explorations of the fraternal bond that chafes between Thor and Loki, and the best cameo from another Avenger… ever. The romance between Thor and Jane is given more space – which is a good thing otherwise Portman would have remained sorely under-used – while the accepted jealousy that Sif (Alexander) feels towards Jane is handled effectively. It’s the quiet moments such as these that offset the action sequences so well, and while those sequences are directed with accomplished flair by Taylor, it’s the ongoing character developments that Marvel are getting right each time. At the heart of the film , though, is the relationship between Thor and Loki, here given added depth by their having to work together to defeat Malekith; the interaction between Hemsworth and Hiddleston is a joy to watch. Hiddleston has a ball (again) as Loki and grabs all the best lines, while Hemsworth continues to mature in the role he’s made his own. Of the supporting cast, Elba, Russo and Dennings shine, while Eccleston makes more of a villain whose sole motivation seems to be ‘destroy everything’.
Taylor handles the various twists and turns of the storyline with experienced aplomb – can we stop mentioning he worked on Game of Thrones now? – and while the script by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has its fair share of plot contrivances, they don’t detract from the enjoyment provided by this latest instalment in Marvel’s plans to dominate the cinema box office. There’s also some great location work at Greenwich (three stops from Charing Cross on the underground – really?), and fantastic production design courtesy of Charles Wood.
Rating: 8/10 – top-notch episode from Phase 2 of the Marvel Universe that also helps set up the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy; bold and more confident in every way. And by the way, note to Marvel: find some way to give Loki his own movie – okay?
Taking place at the Empire cinema in Basildon, Essex here in the UK, the Film4 Frightfest All Night Special 2013 started at approx. 11:00pm on 2 November and finished at approx. 6:15am on 3 November. The following four films were shown.
D: Mark Hartley / 90m
Cast: Charles Dance, Rachel Griffith, Sharni Vinson, Peta Sergeant, Damon Gameau, Martin Crewes, Jackson Gallagher
A remake of the 1978 movie of the same name, Patrick is the first feature from documentary filmmaker Mark Hartley. Taking the same basic premise as the original – coma patient uses telekinesis to manipulate and murder those around him – Hartley’s version is a grim yet stylish offering that sits comfortably alongside its predecessor. Dr Roget (Dance) runs a private clinic where he is attempting to “re-awaken” coma patients. Following the disappearance of one of his nurses, he employs Kathy Jacquard (Vinson) to take her place. Under the watchful eye of Matron Cassidy (Griffith) and the helpful ministrations of Nurse Williams (Sergeant), Kathy soon finds herself assisting Dr Roget in his treatment of “the patient in room 15”, a young man named Patrick (Gallagher). As time passes, Kathy begins to realise that Patrick is capable of communicating with her… at the same time that strange things start happening to those around her, in particular, prospective love interest Brian (Crewes), and recently separated husband Ed (Gameau). And so begins a cat-and-mouse game between Kathy and Patrick as she fights to keep those around her safe from harm, and Patrick becomes increasingly homicidal.
Patrick is an effective shocker, solidly done with a serious approach that works well (no jokey one-liners here). Justin King’s script provides straightforward motivations for each character and ramps up the tension until the final showdown. There are some narrative lapses along the way, and some of the dialogue sounds a little contrived, but on the whole Patrick delivers an often brutally efficient retake on the classic original. The cast help immeasurably, everybody giving committed performances and proving that a little Grand Guignol can go a long way. Patrick also benefits from a great score by Pino Donaggio, and splendidly nasty gore effects courtesy of the makeup department. Aside from the aforementioned narrative lapses, it’s Patrick’s back story that strikes the only false note in the movie, an unnecessary sequence of flashbacks that would have been better presented as a suitably chilling piece of exposition by Dr Roget or Matron Cassidy.
Rating: 7/10 – gloomy interiors and deliberately low-tech effects work bolster this first feature from Hartley; and as the very last credit has it: Patrick vive.
Original title: Discopathe
D: Renaud Gauthier / 81m
Cast: Jérémie Earp-Lavergne, Katherine Cleland, Ingrid Falaise, Pierre Lenoir, Ivan Freud, François Aubin
This Canadian-lensed homage to the heady days of low-budget 80’s slasher flicks is so on the money it’s scary all by itself. The movie opens in 1976. Duane Lewis (Earp-Lavergne) is fired from the New York diner where he (badly) flips burgers. On his way home he meets Valerie (Cleland). They hook up, and later that evening she takes Duane to Seventh Heaven, a trendy nightclub that plays disco music. The music triggers a murderous rage in Duane and soon he’s fleeing the country, heading for Montreal before the cops, led by Detective Stephens (Freud), can arrest him. The movie then skips forward to 1980. Duane is now working in a Catholic girls’ college as a sound and video engineer. He wears hearing aids that block out any music that might trigger one of his murderous outbursts. But when two of the girls decide to stay in their room one weekend while everyone else is away, the music they play causes Duane to revert to his homicidal urges.
Psychopath is a loving recreation of all those cheesy, hard-to-believe shockers that somehow found themselves “Banned in Britain” and whose video covers usually featured a girl in chains being approached by a maniac wielding his weapon of choice. It’s a cheerfully ‘bad’ movie, with deliberately ‘bad’ acting, stilted dialogue, awkward scene transitions, off-kilter camera compositions, and plenty of gratuitous gore effects. Writer/director Gauthier has crafted the kind of grindhouse movie that both Planet Terror and Death Proof should have been but weren’t. It also throws a linguistic curveball when the action moves from New York (all dialogue in English) to Montreal (all dialogue in French-Canadian), and amps up the exploitation angle by throwing in some nudity and a tasteless slo-mo moment involving a female corpse tumbling out of a coffin. Great fun, but not for everyone.
Rating: 7/10 – outrageous, awful (but deliberately so), corny, hammy, gory, stupid – all these things are true…and it’s great!
The Station (2013)
Original title: Blutgletscher
D: Marvin Kren / 98m
Cast: Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, Hille Beseler, Peter Knaack, Felix Römer, Brigitte Kren
Scientists working in the German Alps discover a mysterious red substance that acts as a mutating parasite when it comes into contact with living creatures. As the team comes under increasing attack from a variety of mutated creatures, a party of visitors including Minister Bodicek (Kren) are hiking towards them, unaware of what awaits them. The Station is a clever, intriguing movie that creates a fair amount of tension without quite making you grip the edge of your seat. The characters are well-drawn despite being standard archetypes – a rugged loner who just sees the creatures as needing to be killed (Liebmann), doubtful scientists who see value in the creatures’ existence (Beseler, Römer), a resourceful Minister and her assistant (Malovcic) who also had a previous relationship with the rugged loner, and the usual creature fodder – and the cast acquit themselves well.
The location photography is often spectacular without undermining the insular nature of the narrative, and director Kren marshals everything to good effect. What lets the movie down however is the incredibly shoddy creature design and execution; they’re largely puppets and look like it. This leaves the attack sequences bereft of any real menace and it’s up to the cast to sell it all. There’s also a “Bond-in-the-shower” moment when the Minister, forced to remove a parasite from a young girl’s thigh, opens her up with an ordinary pair of scissors! These problems aside, The Station works largely because of the committed cast, and the underlying subtext relating to climate and eco-change, giving the movie a depth and resonance most creature features lack.
Rating: 7/10 – a big step-up from Kren’s first feature, Rammbock, The Station is a fine addition to the roster of movies where Nature turns against Man.
Nothing Left to Fear (2013)
D: Anthony Leonardi III / 100m
Cast: Anne Heche, James Tupper, Clancy Brown, Rebekah Brandes, Jennifer Stone, Ethan Peck, Carter Cabassa
Based in part on the true-life legend of Stull, Kansas, Nothing Left to Fear sees new pastor in town Dan (Tupper) and his family, wife Wendy (Heche), daughters Mary (Stone) and Rebecca (Brandes), and son Christopher (Cabassa) become the focus of a satanic ritual set in motion by on-the-point-of-retiring pastor Kingsman (Brown). As strange events and incidents begin to happen around them it’s only Rebecca who realises that not all is what it seems and that the smiling, welcoming faces of the townspeople hide a deeper, disturbing secret. And that secret is… well, frankly, a mess. In the hands of first-time screenwriter Jonathan W.C. Mills, Nothing Left to Fear staggers under the weight of lacklustre plotting, hazy motivations, perfunctory characterisations and unconvincing dialogue.
By the movie’s end it’s given up altogether, bogged down by an over-reliance on demonic movie tropes and all-too-familair CGI effects. And the movie’s basic premise is further undermined by the movie’s coda, which sees another pastor and his family on their way to Stull… (For anyone now thinking, Oh great, that’s a spoiler and a half, don’t worry, you’ll be more annoyed with the movie by then than you’ll ever be with this review.) Of the cast, Heche and Brown should have known better, while Brandes and Stone at least make an effort, as does Peck as Rebecca’s love interest Noah. Director Leonardi III, whose first feature this is, seems unable to generate any real tension or sense of impending horror, and badly mishandles an extended sequence where one of the children becomes possessed and attacks their siblings: what should be a terrifying experience for the audience becomes a game of cat-and-mouse that cries out for a quicker, more shocking resolution. On the plus side, the score by Slash (also a producer) and Nicholas O’Toole is effective without being intrusive, and the production design by Deborah Riley adds a level of charm to small-town life that becomes pleasingly distorted by the movie’s denouement.
Rating: 4/10 – a muddled, narratively incoherent movie that promises much but fails to deliver almost entirely; there’s nothing left to fear except the movie itself.
In an effort to maintain a link with thedullwoodexperiment website (until I take it down), I’ll be importing the reviews from that site into this one. There’ll be a note at the bottom of each review that this relates to. Some will be modified from their original content, mainly due to a re-think on my part.
So far, this practice relates to the following movies: Invasion of the Star Creatures, Mojave Phone Booth and Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon.
Cast: Frank Welker, Mindy Cohn, Grey DeLisle, Matthew Lillard, Jeff Bennett, Diedrich Bader, John Di Maggio, Kevin Michael Richardson
With Warner Bros. animation being a joy to watch these days*, you just know that the latest in the series of Scooby-Doo! movies is going to be a visual treat if nothing else. (The company’s Batman movies are worth checking out too.)
Mask of the Blue Falcon opens with the Mystery Team investigating a haunting by the Manic Minotaur of Mainsley Manor. Once that mystery is solved, they head off to a fantasy convention in San de Pedro, California. Shaggy (Lillard) and Scooby (Welker) are excited to go as it will mean they get to meet their hero, Owen Garrison (Bennett). Garrison played the character of Blue Falcon years before on TV with his canine sidekick Dynomutt. To Shaggy and Scooby the original Blue Falcon shows are much better than the new high-tech film version that’s being premiered at the convention. And it seems a character from the old series agrees with them: Mr Hyde, Blue Falcon’s arch-nemesis. He causes chaos using bats, a devil hound, and a toxic green goo. With the film premiere under threat, it’s up to the Mystery Team to get to the bottom of things and unmask Mr Hyde. Naturally this involves Shaggy and Scooby dressing up as their heroes.
It’s fun to see the Mystery Team back in action in a movie that actually works. The last few movies, by general consensus, have been below par, but this outing is the best for some time, mixing the right amount of comedy, thrills and spectacle. The storyline holds the attention and although the identity of the villain is never in doubt to anyone who’s seen a Scooby-Doo movie or TV episode before, it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment the movie provides.
The animation is crisp, the colours rich and realistic, and the voice work is exemplary; Jeff Bennett in particular merits a mention. His Owen Garrison sounds so much like Adam West that it makes the verisimilitude between Blue Falcon and Batman almost surreal. If it was the producers’ intention to sound like that then full marks to them, it was an inspired idea. The script, by Marly Halpern-Graser and Michael F. Ryan, is full of one-liners (Velma: We solve mysteries. Shaggy: And run away a lot.), credible motivations for the chief suspects, exciting chases and villainous characters, and pulls the wool over everyone’s eyes by seeming to end the movie ten minutes before the end is actually due. If Warner Bros. have any sense they’ll keep these guys on the payroll for the next Scooby-Doo! movie.
For those with a sharp eye there are cameos – walk-ons really – by Bram from Scooby-Doo! Music of the Vampire and Wulfric von Rydingsvard from Big Top Scooby-Doo!, and that’s beside the fun to be had from spotting other cartoon characters such as Space Ghost at the convention (I’ll let you search out the others).
Rating: 8/10 – a welcome return to form for the series and a reminder that when he’s on top form there is only one Scooby-Doo – accept no substitutes!
*This review was originally written in January 2013, and posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.
Cast: Annabeth Gish, Christine Elise, Tinarie van Wyk Loots, Robert Romanus, Steve Guttenberg, Missi Pyle, Joy Gohring, David DeLuise, Jacleen Haber, Kevin Rahm, Larry Poindexter, Shani Wallis
Based around a real phone booth that was situated in the Mojave desert and which people would call in the hope that someone would answer, Mojave Phone Booth tells four stories set in and around Las Vegas. The first concerns Beth (Gish). Beth is in a relationship she is having trouble committing to; she’s also overly curious about all the audio tape that litters the area; she can’t help but wonder why these tapes have been discarded, and what may be on them. The second story concerns Mary (Loots). Mary is in financial trouble. When she gets fired she goes to stay with her friend Rachel (Haber). Rachel offers her a chance to make some money and get herself out of trouble. But there’s a catch…
The third story concerns Alex (Elise). Alex is in a relationship with Glory (Gohring), but Glory is convinced she is being persecuted by aliens. When she meets Michael (DeLuise), online and he tells her he can help her, Alex and Glory’s relationship is put under further strain. The last story concerns Richard (Romanus). Richard’s marriage has broken down. He tries desperately to win back his wife Sarah (Pyle) by compiling a videotape of what he believes are happy moments in their marriage, and showing it to her. All four main characters use the titular phone booth to speak to the mysterious Greta (Wallis).
Mojave Phone Booth begins slowly, with Beth’s story appearing somewhat elliptical. Her relationship with Tim (Rahm) revolves around his wanting Beth to move in with him, but Beth is unsure if she should. There’s an understated reluctance by Beth to engage with Tim on an emotional level, and Gish plays her with an instinctive fragility of character. Mary’s story is more straightforward. She is struggling to get by and wants to get into real estate. When Rachel offers her a way of overcoming her problems, a way that involves both women sleeping with businessman Barry (Guttenberg), the internal struggle that results is credibly portrayed. Loots gives a fine performance, imbuing Mary with a toughness that belies the character’s vulnerability.
The story of Alex and Glory is the lightest in tone, with its alien parasite conceit, and the growing certainty that Michael isn’t all he seems. Elise and Gohring both put in good performances, and there’s a connection between the two actresses that helps their on-screen relationship tremendously. Lastly, Richard’s story is the darkest, his descent into post-marital depression both pathetic and affecting in equal measure. Romanus matches his female co-stars for quality, while Pyle makes the most of her brief screen time.
The stories are the key here, and the movie’s running time helps ensure that none outstay their welcome. They’re all made entirely believable by the sharpness of the script by director Putch and co-writer Jerry Rapp. The characters’ emotional lives are well-drawn and depicted, and the sporadic inclusions of humour ensure the drama doesn’t overwhelm the narrative. The performances are exemplary, with special mentions going to Gish and Romanus. Mojave Phone Booth is an indie treat – by turns intelligent, funny, thought-provoking, and absorbing from start to finish.
Rating: 8/10 – deserving of a wider audience, Mojave Phone Booth works on several levels and makes it all look easy; it’s a bona fide gem.
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.
Cast: Robert Ball, Frankie Ray, Gloria Victor, Dolores Reed, Trustin Howard, Mark Ferris
Made on what looks like a shoestring budget (that didn’t include the shoe), Invasion of the Star Creatures tells the story of two privates in the Army, Philbrick (Ball) and Penn (Ray), who yearn for duties more adventurous than garbage disposal. Following a nuclear test carried out nearby, they are ordered to investigate the crater that has been left behind. Led by their sergeant, Glory, a fast-talking hipster with all the groovy catchphrases of the time, Philbrick and Penn join three other privates on the mission, and discover more adventure than they ever could have expected.
The crater proves to be the hideout of two aliens from the planet Callar in the Belfar star system, Dr Tanga (Victor) and her assistant Dr Puna (Reed). They have been on Earth for ten years, learning about mankind until they have enough information about us to enable them to return to their home planet and organise an invasion force. To help them they are assisted by slaves called Vege-Men. Philbrick and Penn risk being lobotomised, then imprisonment before escaping and attempting to bring help before saving the day by themselves… with a little help from the concept of love.
An Impossible Picture presented by R.I. Diculous, Invasion of the Star Creatures never rises above its low-budget origins, but it does move along at a decent pace, aside from the sequence where our hapless heroes encounter a group of less-than-helpful American Indians. Ball and Ray, while they appear to be a comedy double act who’ve worked together in the past, are appearing together for the first and only time, and have obviously modelled their performances on Abbott and Costello, Ball in particular adopting many of Costello’s mannerisms. Ray brings some impressions to the mix (Peter Lorre, James Cagney, Bela Lugosi, Edward G. Robinson), and acts as the straight man. Together they’re not a bad team and while the script by Jonathan Haze gives them enough corny lines to choke a horse, they’re amusing in an old vaudeville kind of way.
As the improbably named aliens, Victor and Reed (now that sounds like a double act) are perfectly cast as statuesque Amazonians, although when called upon to act, let the side down badly (this was Reed’s third and last movie). Of course, the acting level is that of very broad comedy and Victor and Reed are required to be serious, but the moment when Victor looks to camera and raises her eyebrows sums things up perfectly.
Director VeSota – who also directed the 1958 cult classic The Brain Eaters – does his best but is hamstrung by the limitations of both the script and the budget (he also appears as a passing motorist who gets knocked out by Philbrick in a fantasy sequence). The sets are typically minimal: one depicts a series of cave paths that the characters use to go backwards and forwards several times in their efforts to leave the aliens’ lair; it’s a static shot that involves the cast appearing from left or right at will. Several sequences are shot outdoors and as you may have guessed already, the crater never appears; the aliens are hiding out in a cave instead.
The Vege-Men are worth a mention. They’re created by the aliens and have sackcloth heads with twigs and grasses sticking out of them. They’re absurd and laughable at the same time and serve, as if further proof were needed, of the paucity of the budget. They’re even worse than the creature in 1953’s Robot Monster.
On the whole, Invasion of the Star Creatures is pretty bad. But it does have a certain charm and if you go into it accepting it’s a (very) low budget production and does the best it can then it’s actually quite enjoyable. Ball and Ray make for an entertaining double act, while Victor and Reed look appropriately attractive in their silver outfits. If the movie gets incredibly silly – and it does on several occasions – then it’s a reflection on the time it was made, and what audiences were used to.
Rating: 4/10 – laughable in all the wrong ways at times but still worth a look despite the often wince-inducing humour.
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.